First let us deal with the obvious. One hundred kilometres is a VERY LONG WAY, a distance best tackled in a motor vehicle. Why would anyone volunteer to run it? I am asking myself that question with renewed interest today, 48 hours after lining up at the start near Corfe Castle.
Conditions were roughly what you’d want for a long event – not too hot (about 13 degrees), overcast with a bit of drizzle from time to time. I started off wearing my waterproof but had to shed a layer just a couple of km in as I was too hot. For most of the event I stuck with a thin Inov8 base layer.
The first 25 or so km were fairly benign. Yes, there were hills, much of it runnable if you felt that way inclined, certainly on the down side, nothing too damaging or difficult. The going was mostly good, with an occasional slippery patch of mud. I hit the second aid station (26km, 3:01) in fairly good order. The spread at this aid station was excellent, with a good choice of savoury and sweet snacks. I grabbed a ham and cheese roll, topped up my water and hit the trails again. Little did I realise that this would be the last ham and cheese roll available to me the entire event. There were times in the latter stages when I might have killed for a ham and cheese roll. More on this to follow.
If the first 30km were benign, the landscape in the next 30km was anything but. On an intellectual level I knew that this route was on the hilly side, 2500m of uppage is not to be sniffed at. I got a good education in what that really feels like on a physical, real world level soon after leaving the ham & cheese roll stop. Film fans may be familiar with the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride, the ones that required an actual giant to pull them up hand over hand. Well, the cliffs of this part of the Dorset coast give them a good run for their money. The ups were bad enough, just energy sapping steepness, sometimes with steps, sometimes not, occasionally hands and knees. The downs though! Any ideas I might have had about skipping down these like some demented mountain goat were immediately consigned to the bin marked “yeah, didn’t really think this through, did you?” Careful foot placement, slowly slowly, my knees protesting loudly and painfully with each step was the only way I could see to proceed. I had the course profile on my watch so I could see how many of these there were to go, or thought I could. It seems that the resolution of a 1 inch image spanning 100km of actual distance isn’t really up to the job as a real time terrain predictor, every time I thought “phew, last one of these bastard cliffs” there was another. And another.
I eventually hit the next aid station at Durdle Door (42km, 05:22) and made a bee-line for the ham and cheese rolls – there were none! No savoury snacks at all in fact, except some peanuts. The aid stations were all well stocked, just with the wrong things. I was pretty grumpy about this and I don’t think I picked up any food here, relying on my stock of sickly sweet gels and the curried potato and rice wraps to get me through. This was a mistake, by the time I was halfway to the next aid station I was famished! I ate the wrap but it was hard to eat, not what I needed at all. I’ll tell you what else I didn’t need, more cliffs! Several more followed Durdle Door, they have all blurred into one now, all similarly steep and difficult to descend.
I later heard that a seismological survey in China picked up my stomach rumbles, so I was delighted to find hot food at the cruelly named ‘halfway’ aid station (58km, 8:09). I inhaled the spaghetti bolognese on offer. Objectively, I expect it was pretty average as spag bol goes, but in that situation it may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten! God it was good. Nearly as good as the two big chunks of lemon drizzle cake that followed. Feeling more human, I got my drop bag, topped up my tailwind supplies and changed my socks. Inspecting my feet I could see they weren’t enjoying a prolonged run in wet conditions – they looked like I’d just got out of a very long bath. Worried about future blisters I re-applied vaseline, put the dry socks on and hit the trail again.
At this stage I had exactly a marathon left to do. That won’t be so bad, will it? Four 10k runs and change. No bother. The next section through Weymouth was flat, nice and runnable. I stopped not long after leaving the halfway aid station, I could feel hot spots on my feet that I should have sorted out properly when I was in a nice comfy marquee. Instead I wiped them as best I could and covered them in rock tape. This operation was successful on my right foot but my defences were breached on my left, quite a nice blister developed, right on the ball of my foot. This became an encumbrance later on. It’s obvious now but I should have got it properly sorted at the medical tent at the next aid station, a lesson for next time. (See what just happened there? I acknowledged there might be a next time…)
Nothing savoury to eat at the next aid station (68km) either, fail, so I got some water, popped to the loo and proceeded once more in the direction of Bridport. With a total 300 metres of climb, this next section was not the hilliest on the route, not by a long stretch, but by this time I resented every one of those metres. I still had plenty of running in my legs, or that’s what I told myself, so I was frustrated by my inability to run very much. Uphills of any kind were a no-no, the track was often extremely narrow, just wide enough for feet, or muddy, sometimes all of the above, and none of which conditions were conducive to fast progress. Not really knowing what to expect from a 100k event, I had delusions of finishing in under 12 hours, figuring that roughly equates to a sub-4 hr marathon time as a good benchmark. Ha! My delusion vanished like the mirage it was during this section. My estimated completion time got pushed further and further back as the remaining kilometres ticked by ever more slowly. This was a little depressing for me and I imagine quite dull for my wife and youngest daughter who were meeting me at the finish.
As I write this I am finding I am remembering the aid stations much more vividly than the trails themselves! The next stop (83km, 12:23) hit the mark. I was having a little whinge at the blameless individual manning the snack table, bemoaning the lack once more of savoury options. He pointed at the peanuts, then on seeing my face he said “oh, and there’s pizza over there”. That was a close call, I nearly missed out on pizza! I also scoffed a particularly good southern fried chicken wrap. Both hit the spot. This was a good thing, a little like the last meal of the condemned man, as the next section was a proper doozy.
I made nice progress at first, some beautiful flat tarmac that ran parallel to the beach. I like a bit of trail as much as the next runner, but I was very happy to see something smooth by this stage. Things changed rapidly as the route headed on to the beach itself. Not for us any smooth, hard packed sand. No no, that would be too easy! This beach was loose shingle, the kind that you sink up to your ankles in with every step. I certainly couldn’t summon the strength or wits to run on it, just walking was challenge enough.
This stony purgatory seemed to go on FOR EVER, sapping most of my remaining fortitude. It did eventually end after a couple of km, but in a cruel blow the impossible-to-run-on shingles were replaced by impossible-to-run-on soupy mud. I slogged on, slip-sliding away. My trail shoes were intended for dry, summer trails so they didn’t cope well with the mud. To add insult to injury, I had been told very precisely that the next aid station, the punctuation by which I was measuring my progress, was 11.2km from the previous one. No! It wasn’t! It was 12.6km! That 1.4km was a battle. Had I somehow missed the aid station? Would I be DQd for not scanning in? Just as the full horror of this prospect gained hold in my head, I crested a hill and saw laid out below me the welcome sight of the next aid station. Phew!
I whipped through it (96km, 14:44), noting once again the lamentable lack of ham and cheese rolls and stopping only to top up my water. Not far to go now, a measly 4km, the sort of thing I might bash out in 20 minutes if I was feeling frisky. It won’t surprise you to learn that I was not in the least bit frisky at this point. I was reduced mostly to walking with the odd spell of half-hearted shambling. My toe (broken 4 weeks prior) was really hurting by now but I was going to finish it even it required me to hop. At least it’s flat from here to the finish, I thought. That thought was short lived as I saw yet more cliffs looming into view, two of the bastards. Seriously!? They were considerably less high than the earlier ones, less than half the height, but they might as well have been five times taller. It was fully dark too, so I had lots of fun scaling these twin peaks by the light of my head torch. Going down was particularly hard work, and slow too, my blister and loudly protesting toe making it super difficult. Time seemed to slow right down as I just put all my effort into deciding where to put my feet next then taking each tentative step downwards. I should have just gone down on my backside, that would have been a lot quicker!
Having conquered these obstacles I still had a couple of kilometres to go, all along various roads leading into Bridport. After the dramatic vistas along the route, the finish was a bit of a let down scenery-wise, tucked away as it was behind a big Morrison’s supermarket. There were no dramatic finish line scenes, although I did summon a lurching half-run in the final 100 metres. I was pleased my wife and daughter were still there, I wouldn’t have blamed them for leaving me to fend for myself as it was gone half ten by this point and getting cold. With a two and a half hour journey to get home, I just scanned in, grabbed my medal and drop bag and skedaddled. Were there ham and cheese rolls at the finish? I strongly doubt it.
I finished in 15:44:37. The overall results were published today, and I was pleased to see only one person finished in under 12 hours, and they smashed it by over 2 hours, so it really was never on the cards for me. I have been asked a few times if I enjoyed it. Honestly? Not really, for the most part. I endured it, and I think that’s ok – it is called endurance running after all, not enjoyment running! My family were a source of both encouragement and light mockery throughout via the WhatsApp group, and I got lots of messages of support from the Twitter running massif. I’m grateful to you all, but I would have traded it all in an instant for a few ham and cheese rolls!