The Beast (Stairway to Hell) – Race 3 in the Purbeck Trail Series

So this race last year was my first introduction to running in the Purbecks and one of the main reasons I’m running the Trail Series. It is a gruelling, punishing, relentless course but it’s definitely the most rewarding you’ll ever run. The race distance is 12.5 miles starting and finishing by Corfe Castle and incorporates the famous SW Coastal path. Other than the terrain the big challenges are three huge hills and the Stairway to Hell which is challenging running down and brutal climbing up.
This race always has a big turnout from clubs and unaffiliated runners and with the race featuring in the Club Championship there was to be a lot of Harriers running.
I travelled with Stu, Steve, Dave and Mark and we chatted about the course on the way, all agreeing that while the Stairway to Hell is the killer, the long drag to Kingston near the end was the final killer!
We picked up our numbers on arrival and headed for a cup of tea and met up with a few more Harriers. Always nice to have out a chill out before, chat about nothing of importance and have a bit of a laugh.
After a nice warm up we headed to the start line which differs from the finish.
I lined up at the front as I wanted to make the most of the downhill you start on. The race starts on a country lane for about half a mile and then you go off-road. The signal was given and we were off, I quickly went into the lead as I stretched my legs out down the slope, steadied for the rise and then hit the fall again. When I got to the off-road there were 3 other runners with me, two were from Poole AC and the eventual race winner from Clapham Chasers. When we hit the first incline a gap started to form between us, I didn’t want to push too hard early on trying to stay with this particular group as my aim was to be in the top 10. I just kept in the my race plan mindset which was to take it steady on the inclines and hit the descents hard. This worked well as I rejoined and then passed the group on the first descent. Mile 1 6:25 

I stuck with them on flats for mile 2 6:34  but as soon as we hit the first major hill which is about a 250ft elevation over about 200yds in distance through tree roots, loose stone and mud they started develop a gap which I couldn’t recover. The Purbeck Runner I finished in front of at Studland was now beside me by about 150yds up the hill, now him I did need to beat as Trail series points were at stake. Mile 3 8:13
When you emerge from the trees into a field  you think the hill is done but no there’s still more!! The Purbeck Runner now passed me but I kept close knowing that I needed to be close when we reached the peak. I must add that the views from here are quite spectacular and its worth looking around and glancing over your shoulder. Over the next mile the Purbeck Runner and I interchanged positions, when we approached a descent I thought right I’ll hit this hard and create a gap…what a mistake!! It was only short but quite steep, to cut a long story short, I thought we were going left,we were going straight on through a gate,I changed direction, I slipped, I ended up completely in a stinging nettle bush!!!! 

When I got up the Purbeck Runner was still coming down the hill, he kindly didn’t laugh, and checked I was alright. I however did crack up laughing, said I was fine and ploughed on. It was then that the stinging kicked in and my right side was in full on fire mode!!! Mile 4 7:05
Once through that gate we were on to a steady slippy climb and after just what happened I was a bit more cautious. There is then a decline before you need to climb over a stile and then you start a mild climb on very slippy rocks, you couldn’t help have a few gut dropping foot misplacements through here. I then came out on a bit of tarmac on a downhill head towards the famous Winspit Quarry, the tarmac soon turns to gravel and I completed mile 5 in 7:08. I made the most of this surface and really put a shift in trying to drop the Purbeck Runner, I succeeded as when I got to the stair climb I glanced over my shoulder and there was a bit of distance  between us. I wanted to increase that on the stairs but knew I’d regret it so I just walked up these. It was here I did a damage control check to make sure adrenaline was hiding any mishaps, while I was still on nettle fire thankfully I didn’t have any cuts or grazes.

When you get to the top you catch your first views of Winspit Quarry which I really must come back to when not running The Beast, it looks like a great spot as it has dramatic cliff faces and situated on a beautiful coastal section, supposedly there are some nice caves to explore too.

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Winspit Quarry

You’re now fully on the SW Coastal path, litterally running along the cliff edge!!! As much as you want to just stare left out to sea, you really have to watch where you’re putting your feet along this bit as parts are quite narrow. Mile 6 6.33, quite impressive seeing as I had to walk up steps!!

Mile 7 is when people start to really feel it and it’s here, there are a few up and downs and then there is a very steep elevation which practically brings you to a walk, when you finally get through it you reach the Coastguard lookout and if you look behind St Aldhelms Chapel. For those that have run this raise before you’re like brilliant glad that hills out the way, looks nice and flat up ahead….for those who have run it before you’ll more like oh no not from the the stairway to hell!!! Mile 7 8:46

So if you ever mention The Beast to anyone they’ll always mention the steps aka the Stairway to Hell. Now running down the Stairway to Hell has it’s own difficulties and people approach it differently, some prefer the steps while others run alongside them on the slope. The danger with the slope is that you can pick up too much speed plus you have to watch out for the rabbit holes and unevenness with a barbwire fence next to it. With that said I like running down the slope although I didn’t hit as hard as last year because it was damper and there were a few big divots. When you get to the bottom you know the next bit is just really gonna hurt!! No one can run up these steps…..i really should count them…  you’ve just got to put your hands on you legs and push yourself up and your thighs absolutely burn when you get to the top!!! Once you get to the top you try and start running again and your legs are like jelly, after a while they come back and go on your merry way. Mile 8 9:46

The next mile is my favourite, you run along the crest of West Hill and you look down over the beautiful Chapmans Pool, which is postcard material.  Combined with the stunning panoramic views this section also includes my favourite downhill. I’m like a stupid kid down through here as I try my best to impersonate a fell runner.  It was really windy here, thankfully the side wind which was trying it’s best to keep me safe by pushing me inland. It was so windy that I was beginning to worry that my race number would be ripped off the safety pins holding it in place. When we got to the bottom I knew it now the long Kingston drag so I decided to physically stop at the water station, down a cup before moving on. I normally just take a cup and go and have a couple of sips but I thought no I need this!! Mile 9 6:50

So now began the long climb to Kingston, this was where the wheels started to come off last year and I was determined it wouldn’t happen again. I kept a steady pace through here as as you begin to climb initially on grass and then onto gravel. It’s nice here that you can look over to the left and see people starting the descent on West Hill….fluorescent clothing really sticks out!

The start of the climb to Kingston

This climb feels like it goes on forever and half way up you have to climb over a stile, it was here I noticed that the Purbeck Runner had disappeared altogether but I was now being caught by a Poole Runner. I decided to stay steady and increase my pace once I got to the top. When I reached the top as I was climbing over another stile I checked on runner behind and he had closed in a bit more, time to put some effort in. Mile 10 8.20
I really put the effort in over the next mile to try and build back the gap I’d lost on the climb, made easier as the course was now on road. This worked really well and I extended the gap once more, known by listening to the applause gap between us. I was now quite confident I could secure 4th spot. Mile 11 6:29 

So this is the mile it always wrong, as my naivety in trying to hold the position rather than racing the race was my downfall. So as we finished on the road you now had to enter the field by gate. Numnuts though struggled getting the gate open and all that hard effort had been lost and he was now behind me, I even held the gate for him! 

I charged across the field to try and regain what I’d lost, climbed a stile and carried on sprinting. I then came to another gate and after my previous experience decided to climb it! I was putting it all in now desperate to hold my position. I then hit another gate and with other handing branches couldn’t climb it and ag as in struggled to get the dam thing open, this put me in to a panic which didn’t help. I again lost the time I’d built up. This happened a couple more times, again politely holding the gate, and then we hit the final climb. He overtook and pulled away from me here, leading to my head dropping. Mile 12 7.33

I finished in 5th place overall in 1:29:58 which was a fantastic result. 

I’ve learnt a big lesson in racing, with hindsight it would have been far better to let him pass and then beat him on the final straight than waste energy creating gaps which I couldn’t hold  with the nature of the course.

Strolling to the finish deflated

On a real positive I beat those who are trailing me in the Trail Series which has extended my lead to 13 points.

So time for the killer question would I do this race again? Hell yeah!! This is one of my favourite races of the year!!! It ticks all the boxes: well organised, excellently marshaled, fantastic surroundings I mean jaw dropping, well attended and did I mention your running along the jurassic coast!

If you live nearby you should run this race, if you live far away you should run this race…..just make sure you’re  up to challenge because it’s a tough one!!

Oh by the way the nettle tingling lasted 2 days!!! 

Up next is the Purbeck Marathon, wish me luck!!!!

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