“It’s 10.30pm and I’m running full pelt across the banks of the fleet lagoon next Chesil Beach in Dorset , buzzing off endorphins and a dose of caffeine and painkillers that would probably topple a cow. My mate and running partners running along next to me, we have another 25 miles of 65 miles to run…and for some reason we are laughing. What’s more, in retrospect this isn’t even that weird.”
While we were still coming to terms with the start of 2018 my mate Bukey mentioned he was planning on walking the 100km (that’s roughly 62 miles) Jurassic Coast Challenge. The event can be run, jogged or hiked and it takes you through the stunning Jurassic Coastline of Dorset. Starting in Poole at Whitecliff recreation ground the race takes you through Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, Weymouth then through nature reserves, part of the prehistoric tombolo of Chesil Beach, over the cliffs of West Bay finally to finish in Bridport. In short this is an epic, visually stunning and brutal race however you tackle it. Which in our case (if you want to imagine the Jurassic Coastline as a person) was punching it right in the face, until it hit us back just as hard.
As my folks used to take me and my older brother to Dorset a lot I knew most of this coastline well already and I love the area, so I suggested to my mates Shawn and Andy that we drive down and walk part of the route with Bukey but don’t enter the race. We had just recently completed the 106km Isle Of Wight Challenge and the wounds had barely healed. I said we should have a nice relaxing break, which is something most of us just can’t seem to pull off. But watching Bukey do the ‘crazy’ bit was appealing, sit back and watch someone else have a dose of ultra marathon suffering..and we could go to the pub.
By the simple fact this blog exists you can probably guess no relaxing happened. Instead me and Andy ended up doing the most brutal footrace either of us have experienced so far!
I blame Shawn
To start with Shawn suggested we run, not walk the ENTIRE race instead of walking a bit with Bukey. This is totally understandable as he sacrificed his chance to complete the IOW challenge (see IOW blog) to help other competitors. So you can’t really blame the guy for wanting another shot without having to lug people with heat stroke or having seizures into ambulances when he should be running / walking. Then again there’s probably a few reading this who are wondering why anybody EVER would want want to run 62 miles of sea cliffs and hot shingle in the burning sun in one go. Maybe you need to do it and somewhere in the tears you’ll understand..or never do it again!
And then there were two
Flash forward slightly in time: now me and Andy have signed up for the race, we arn’t walking but we have signed up as ‘joggers’ as we know the terrain has such elevation ( According to my Strava and Fenix 3 6,870 ft! To put that in perspective that’s like hiking up Ben Nevis (Highest mountain in the UK at 4,413ft) one and a half times…..Anyway we have every intention of running as much as we possibly can! Everybody else has dropped out due to financial issues and other commitments and so…not for the first time it’s me and Andy off to death or glory!
Training begins…or continues? Did it ever end?
A month further into the future and I’m running a shop for work, which if you have read the other blogs it’s probably not surprise we sell outdoor and adventure gear. It’s the middle of the most epic heatwave I’ve experienced in a long time, the countryside turns in dry tinder and dust and the news is full of tales of wildfires. I train almost every day in a very nice but baking hot nature reserve full of sand. It feels like running through a potters kiln and it is so warm my nasal passages are violated by dying insects making their last ditch attempt at finding moisture. The heat burns my lungs when I run and it reminds me of times I’ve opened the oven to check a pie and almost lost my eyebrows in the process.
What a lovely motel you have Satan
Every night after my run I return to my work provided motel which is sort of exciting to get to as it sits between dual carriageways and as I don’t drive yet each trip is like a bit of a gamble to ensure I don’t get hit by a truck. Clearly plenty of other wildlife has not been so lucky, judging by the desiccated bat corpses I walk over on the way to and from the hotel. The bonus is this does really wake me up on my way to work in the morning. Anyway I’m training in this face melting heat still because my gut feeling is that we will be running in the same heat when we are at the race. I always try and train for way beyond what I need for endurance races which means (usually) I’m about prepared for each one. Sort of.
Over the years I think I have learned to enjoy a bit of pain and suffering, which is just as well because back at the motel there’s no air con. Or air circulation, or to think about it much air at all. Trying to sleep is like trying to kip on the devils sun tan bed in the seventh level of hell. My attempts to sleep well in this torture chamber are successful eventually but to begin with I’m rocked to sleep by the soundtrack of tradesmen outside (I have to leave the window open so I don’t die from the heat) discussing their favourite colour of grout (probably). I dream of deserts and of fighting zombies who are trying to grout my bathroom.
Off to Dorset
Finally escaping the no-man’s land I’ve been existing in for the past month I make my way rapidly to Dorset to ‘relax’ before the race. However being me this relaxing turns out to be lots of long distance walks and swimming to some nice soothing drum and bass and heavy metal. Enduring the transfer through London and the terrifying exhaust pipe that is the London Underground I head off towards Weymouth.
I spend one evening swimming in Weymouth bay as I have the Windermere 1 Way Swim in about a month’s time and I need to keep training, that however you can read about in another blog. Weymouth bay itself is not deep at all and you can walk really far out in it and still stand up, and for the first time I have ever experienced it in the UK the water is the warmth of a tepid bath.. instead of the usual manhood shriveling slap from a Callipo temperature it usually is.
Nobody usually recommends open water swimming alone even in such a shallow bay and every time my swimming buoy hits my leg I swear a bit of pee escapes. Because I have had to walk out so far to get some depth the promenade looks tiny. Despite my mild paranoia of having my face bitten off by a shark I manage just under three miles until the urge to eat pizza takes over and it starts getting dark. I then make the mistake of using just wet sandals to get back walking to my guesthouse, carving twin slashes in both of my big toes. This is not perfect just days before the race and while showering the salt and seaweed smell off myself it’s not hard to notice the hot water hitting the cuts feels like someones dragged a soldering iron across my toes.
A few days later after some long walks around Portland and Chesil beach, Andy drives down to meet me the evening before the race. Despite a few setbacks like me walking round Weymouth for eight hours, and Andy getting stuck in traffic consisting of swarms of families trying to get to the coast we rock up at the B+B and get our race gear ready for about 12am.
Whitecliff Recreation Ground
Getting to the start line and ready to start we set off at 8:51am and in a really good mood considering the brutality that is about to slowly unfold. We head off at a pace of about nine minutes a mile (that may not sound fast but it is over this distance!)
The Ferry And Studland Bay
After running through the Poole harbor area we are then crammed onto a ferry with lots of other runners and hikers and then plonked down in Studland Bay. Running through Studland Bay is awesome, the sun reflects off the water giving it a silver shimmer and as we have never seen the place before it is even more fascinating. However just as I’m thinking how beautiful this arc of shimmering silver and sand is, we and a few thousand other runners and hikers disturb what can only be described as a cache of nudists. Neither group is expecting one another and I’m sure if you were (or are!) a first time nudist a few thousand hikers and runners bombing past you totally un-announced and laughing might put you off the pastime a little! Anyway the bay is amazing despite the amount of floppy bits on show and we discuss with the other contestants and each other how great it would be to come back when we are not trying to physically destroy ourselves. The wet sand however is a challenging start and and it isn’t long until we hit some tasty hills as we rise up over the cliffs looking down the coastline. Right now there isn’t a cloud in the sky and its started to get a bit toasty already.
Soon enough we are ascending inland over the Purbeck hills which are desert dry, in fact at the moment the grass covering them looks like hay and the area looks like a tinderbox. Heat reflects off the ground bending the visuals and the views out are amazing. Bar the light brown colour if a tourist asked for a description of England I think this is what most of us tea abusers would describe. The heat however is oppressive and I’m glad we are both carrying plenty of water with us.
Me and Andy get a serious pace on and overtake wave after wave of walkers and a number of runners. It get’s quite exciting running in this new scenery with the sea and the countryside stretching out before us and we have to dial it back a bit as we keep running faster and faster. You need to conserve your energy on races like this, and the fact that my vision turns green tinted more than once as a kind of pre-party to being unconscious tells me I’m pushing it too hard!
Not too far from the end of the Purbecks we leg it past the impressive ruins of Corfe Castle that stick up from the dry ground like the skeleton of a massive creature in the mid-day sun.
Though the bombs and into Lulworth
Heading towards Lulworth cove area the cliffs become, as expected suddenly very steep. One area in particular is a firing range. We run past bit of hopefully exploded ordnance, but best not to check as the signs say, especially as anything that hasn’t gone up previously is now very warm. I half expect to see bits of rambler adorning the surrounding bushes…….Regardless of this we pass through the heavily scorched and unwelcome looking clifftop in one piece and neither me or Andy end up being sent home in a carrier bag.
Some time later a friendly guy who is hiking the challenge advises us to ‘take it easy through here’ when he sees us running past. Obviously he doesn’t know either of us, we are not here to chill out. Before long we are moving quickly through the crowd that’s covering most of Lulworth Coves beautiful shingle beach. They are all clearly confused by the runners and hikers disturbing them transforming into red jelly babies in the burning sun.
We soon run past Man’o war beach with it’s pasty shaped Portuguese Man’o War esque island in the sea and the impressive sea arch of iconic Durdle Door. I spent many days a year down here with my family. This is a totally different way and state of mind to view the place in. Coming running into and out of checkpoints other competitors shout that we are ‘too energetic!’ which spurs us on as well as makes us laugh. And at each of these checkpoints we load up on sweets ( on these kind of events they have FREE pick and mix!) which would be awesome if we were not having to force feed ourselves with it, and anything else that gets in the way to sustain our energy. Eating and running is not easy, it takes practice and it is not so pleasant. Imagine being totally exhausted and having someone shake you up and down while try and eat your lunch….
The Night Stage Begins
Finally we hit the checkpoint before the night stage of the race, grab our half way bag, force a half way meal down us, swap out into warmer clothes, congratulate each other on not dying yet and get the head torches on. Keeping the shepherds pie I’ve just forced myself to consume down as we begin running off is almost as much effort as ignoring the pain in my legs. Currently they feel like someone has worked them over with a baseball bat.
Weymouth and being the harbor hero’s
At this point we haven’t seen many runners, joggers or walkers since we left the cliffs heading out of the Lulworth estate area. We power down Weymouth promenade past where I was swimming just days ago. For two guys that have been running for fourteen hours at least so far we are still fresh and really pacing it. This is especially evident when we run through the old harbor area of Weymouth where crowds out for a weekend drink cheer us on and clap us. We get a buzz off this so we start running even faster as nay normal person would. When I asked him later my mate Andy said ‘ I felt euphorically happy, like we were doing something extraordinary!’ I got a buzz off it myself but I’m thinking the fact everyone is clearly a bit pissed might be helping. I wish we still had battery in the GoPro at this point because the whole scene would have been amazing to play back!
Chesil Beach and The Fleet
It’s 10.30pm and I’m running full pelt across the banks of the fleet lagoon next Chesil Beach in Dorset , buzzing off endorphins and a dose of caffeine and painkillers that would probably topple a cow. My mate and running partners running along next to me, we have another 25 miles of 65 miles to run…and for some reason we are laughing. What’s more, in retrospect this isn’t even that weird. Chesil beach is an epic place if you haven’t seen it you should! It’s often referred to as a ‘sandbar’ but in fact it’s an 18 mile long tombolo as Portland that it connects to is an island. The fleet lagoon is what separates this huge ancient bar of shingle from the mainland. I’ve seen Chesil a lot in my life and the almost desert like desolation and the things that wash up on it have always interested me. I think back to walking the length of this often desolate feeling sandbar in bad winter weather. After not getting through army officer selection almost a year before this is where I came feeling pretty lost, and it lifts me up to think I’m back here again but this time – I’m winning.
The two friendly ladies
It must be because me and Andy are from the Midlands or maybe it’s the tendency to think dark thoughts while running through the night. Two ladies turn up on the path and say hello and say they are following the race. It’s quite late at night now and we assume they are supporting another runner. They say they will see us later and me and Andy muse out loud about if they are just really nice with nothing better to do or they plan to find us when we are more tired and harvest us for our organs in the bushes.
More fire risk firing ranges
Towards Bridport we pass through miles of dry seaside scrubland which also happens to be a firing range. Ominous ‘risk of fire’ signs populate the area. This doesn’t fill us full of confidence and I think we are both hoping that there are no smokers out tonight.
The shingle of misery
It’s not long until we hit the section of the race where the tombolo of Chesil meets the shore again and finally after being unbelievably positive for so long the mental darkness descends. Why? Well this is caused by this leg of the race being made of tiny tiny bits of shingle. We can’t run on it, in fact you can barely walk on it and it is like hitting a wall. It’s such fine stuff compared to 18 miles up at the start of Chesil that it shifts every time we put a foot down. At this late stage the extra effort of moving through this is soul destroyingly tiring. It’s like walking on tiny bits of broken dreams, totally relentless and feel like it well never end. We both find it hard to talk and succumb to the endless ‘shrik shrik, shrik’ noise of plodding on. The challenge of this shingle grinds us down just like the pebbles under our feet have been ground down by wave action as they made their way slowly, over thousands of years down the coastline.
Massage tent. Owch.
We are so close to finishing now and we stop at a checkpoint, grab a coffee and take advantage of the sports massage tent. I spend ten minutes gritting my teeth as the massage bloke un-cripples me. Like a sporting Jesus he gives me the power to walk again and all I have to do is sacrifice the top surface of my teeth. By this point my legs are almost totally seized up and a sports massage is a great idea. I walk off to stuff my face with checkpoint food for the last leg of the journey while he tortures Andy. A walker stumbles in out of the sweaty darkness and collapses like someone has just thrown a sack of potatoes outside. Luckily he collapses right in front of the medics, it’s clear the race has taken the toll on the guy. I drink my coffee and think about how easily this could have been me or Andy.
Bridport and the finish.
The sun is coming up over the cliffs of West Bay as we head to Bridport. These cliffs are pretty unstable as it is and it is worth staying focused at this point as one trip in our exhausted states could mean ending up at the foot of the cliffs! We can see and hear the finish tent up on the hills in the distance. It’s so close but it feels so far. The strange ladies appear on the swings coming through town and tell us what we are fed up of hearing…’almost there!’. At this point at 5am the last mile to the finish is a teeth grinding eternity. We finally pass through the finish and collect our medals. We finally get to sit down after 20 hours of running and some hiking. Our epic journey is over and though we are in in 70th and 71st place the energy just isn’s there to celebrate. We manage a weak hi-five and the Jurrasic Coast is done.