Sunday, 3 September 2017
The Dorset Beast: Twelve Miles of Rain, Mud and Cliffs.
Today was Dorset Beast day: a gnarly, hilly, off-road fest of hills, mud, tree roots, nettles, cliffs, coastal paths, biting wind and driving rain. We were up early for breakfast and ready when our friends arrived to pick us up at 8.30 for the 10.30 start. There were five of us heading off for the run: two speedy-pants, me somewhere in the middle and two slower boys. The scene above greeted us as we arrived at race HQ. Oh Dear.
We traipsed across the sodden field in a downpour that was to last the entire day and collected our numbers from the tent, hovering inside it as long as possible as the combined warmth of so many bodies had momentarily stopped the shivering, then queued for the loo in the rain and started shivering again whilst wondering what the hell we were doing there.
I had my traditional pre-race tuna-mayo-with-salad-from-the-garden half pitta (in the rain) which helped me warm up a bit, then it was time to strip off and don racing kit (in the rain) before trotting down to the start (in the rain).
I elected to wear my waterproof, woolly hat and gloves for which I was teased. I did not at any point over the next nearly-three hours regret them. M headed off to the front of the field wearing nothing more than a racing vest and shorts (that man is made of steel), with Sue a little behind him and then me and the boys further back....
We couldn't hear the race director's instructions because, even with the use of a megaphone, the wind snatched his words and whipped them away before they reached our ears. All we heard was the applause and a nervous ripple of laughter. I later learnt this was caused by a warning about cows in the fields, deservedly so as it turned out: there was a small stampede when M got to them which concluded with one of the cows jumping through the hedge. Luckily, by the time I arrived at the same spot half an hour later they'd calmed down and were all standing quietly in a group sheltering beneath the trees.
We set off, 400 runners galloping down a lane jostling for position while the rain baptised us soundly. I've had a dodgy knee for the last six weeks and was therefore running the race today with caution, it being a 'test race' (according to Physio Steve) to see what was going on. It was perhaps not the best race to choose to run with a less-than-fit knee as it was all hills, and big ones at that, but I'd been wanting to run it since I first found out about it and you know there is very little that stops me. Look at the hardy souls in the pic below running in shorts and t-shirts on the most miserable day this side of last winter! Hats off to them.
On we went, over commons (can you see Corfe castle there in the distance in the photo above?), across slick wet board walks across streams, over stiles, along the railway and down along country lanes through villages heading for the sea. My knee was OK, registering 1-2 out of 10 on the annoyance scale and I was plugging on through the awful conditions relatively well, if slowly.
We took the path up to the top of the quarry, and there was the sea, spread out looking angry and agitated in front of us...
It was a grey, broiling sort of day, the waves whipped into a white-crested fury by the wind which was mercifully blowing in land, otherwise I think several of us may have done kite-impressions and ballooned out over the water. As it was I was nearly knocked over by a particularly strong gust at one point. I found myself dimly wondering just how safe it was for 400 people to bounce up and down on the cliff path in a rainstorm so close to the edge of the land. I tried not to think too much about it and concentrate on my running instead, which was more a mix of run-walk at this point because a) the path was narrow and b) it kept going up hill.
We were more-or-less at the half-way point by now, around 6 miles. Traditionally, this is where I get into my stride and start over-taking people, but the terrain made it impossible to do that and to add to my woes, my knee had started aching more. The chap in front of me was progressing through a series of slips and slides that were essentially a kind of permanently-suspened fall, and I had to bite my lip to stop the giggle that kept wanting to burst from me at the sight. I think the weather and the conditions were combining to make me a little hysterical. The wind whipped up again at that point and small needles of rain began to drive into my left cheek.
Feeling slightly smug (and slip-free in my fell shoes), I overtook Slipping Man as soon as I could. I got into my stride as we went past the coast guard, perched high up on St Aldhelm's Head, and waved at the coast-guard chap who was warm and dry inside. He waved back, doubtless thinking what idiots we were to be running twelves miles of hideous conditions along the exposed coastal path near Worth Matravers.
And then this happened....
The path disappeared down one side of an ankle-breaking cliff that was slick with mud to reappear on the other side, where a lung-busting climb awaited......
If you look carefully, you'll see the tiny brightly-coloured dots in a wavering line to the right of the dark mass of trees in the pic above. These are runners. Here's a close-up version.
I paused briefly to gather my courage and determination and while doing so took the opportunity to take this photo. You can barely see the coastline, so bad were the conditions....
I fared better than most of my fellows scrambling down the cliff path, thanks to my beloved Mud Claws (fell shoes with grippy bottoms that chewed the mud with a kind of disdainful Huh! Take That!). The screams and yelps of those behind me told their own tale. I didn't risk looking back; I just hoped they weren't going to free-fall all the way down and take me with them :o)
The climb up was not actually too bad. I've learnt not to look up to where you're going as it's just too distressing, plus the path was littered with bodies, casualties in road and trail shoes who were slip-sliding hopelessly down and sideways as they battled the slick mud of the path and the gradient. To my surprise, I reached the top relatively quickly and in good condition (blessed be the Mud Claws) and managed to overtake about five people on the next downward stretch because I had absolute faith in my shoes to hold me up, which they did, while people all around me were sliding and falling over.
The course dipped into a hollow and then began a long, arduous climb up a surfaced track. I lost heart here: I suddenly felt very tired and very heavy in the leg department, so I walked. Then ran on once we reached the top. I knew we didn't have far to go but my knee was starting to seriously hurt and I wondered if I'd be able to run for much longer.
At 11 miles it gave out entirely and all the people I'd worked so hard to overtake began streaming past me. It was the most disheartening moment I've yet experienced on a run. I had one mile to go and I just couldn't run without it hurting. So I walked. I hobbled. I rang M to tell him I was walking the last mile, then I saw some marshals ahead and as I was by now limping quite badly they asked if I wanted a car to drive me to the finish.
Well, OK, I might be in bits unable to run anywhere even slowly, but there is no way I'm running eleven and a half miles of a really tough race only to get a lift home for the last half mile. I'd have to be dead or unconscious. I thanked them, shook my head, gritted my teeth and carried on. I turned right off the field and onto a lane which wound uphill and walked up it sobbing, I was feeling so sorry for myself. A lovely marshal asked if I was OK and when I nodded miserably and told her I was determined to finish the race, she said you've got less than a hundred yards to go. Determined to cross the line not walking, I broke into a pathetic hobbling run, crossed the line in just under three hours and promptly burst into tears. It was my worst result time-wise since I began these longer-distance runs but even worse than that I was now consumed with the thought I might never run again.
M, as usual, was my hero.You did brilliantly, he said, wrapping me in a big hug. Your knee will mend and you'll race again. He should know, as he reminded me later, he's had two enforced significant rest-periods from injury in the last ten years and came back to run a marathon in his best-ever race position afterwards. He dried my tears and gave me a bacon butty. Friend Sue collected my t-shirt (bright yellow with a red roaring lion's head) and between them they got me back to the car, wrapped a warm towel round my shoulders and helped me pull off my sodden kit and replace it with something warm and dry. The boys came back not soon after and there was just time to take a final photo before heading home to a bath and a half-hour ice pack.
So there we have it. What a day! Should anyone kind enough to read the above experience the temptation, at this point, to tell me that I'll ruin my knee if I ever run another step, please resist it. I'm afraid it will fall on deaf ears. I'm just not the glass half-empty type and I don't give up easily.
Hope you're all well and have had a good weekend?