This marathon without a doubt in my mind is the most beautiful, awe inspiring run I have or could ever hope to run. There is not a part of this course that doesn’t give you something to admire, from either the beautiful coastline, cliff faces, rolling hills and wildlife….but and it is a BIG but…it is the most demanding, body destroying, soul sapping run you could ever hope to run!!! Why you ask well just look at the elevation graph below and you’ll understand.
We headed to the race start which at the top of a cliff, straight away you just know this race is going to be special with 360° views of the Swanage fishing village, the coast line and out to sea.
The racing brief was nice and relaxed but we were informed that annoyingly they had messed up the chip to our race numbers. This meant that we would not know the results for a few days or their wouldn’t be any on the day category prizes (not that I was expecting one). I saw a couple of Harriers so went over and said hi, Tracey like me us doing every race in the Purbeck Trail Series and is currently leading the ladies standing.
We were called to the start line so I gave my boys and wife a kiss, they wished me luck, I fastened my bandanna, strapped on my gel belt and I was ready to go. My plan was to take a gel before and then every 5 miles, same approach as I took for Manchester Marathon.
The town crier rang his bell and we went off and we were away, I was concious not to sprint off so I positioned myself roughly in 15th place and stuck with this pack for the first mile. The first mile is predominantly on an uphill slope so this helped me keep a consistent pace. While you start on the green, you’re running on road as you make your way to the coastal path. Mile 1 6:58/mi not the slowest but I was aiming for 7’s until I got to the really tricky bits so happy to keep this pace.
You then dip down so the pace picked up a bit and it was here I started to take a few runners, I believe moving up to 8th spot. I knew this would soon change once we got to some hills. At the end of mile 2 6:13/mi you finally hit what this run is all about….the Jurassic Coast!
It’s here a huge grin came across my face and my eyes were just darting everywhere trying to take it all in. While I was only doing this marathon as it was part of the Purbeck Trail Series, even then I considered skipping it, I was running in idyllic surroundings on fun terrain and was going to enjoy myself. There was a water stop here but I decided to skip it, the weather at this point was mild and I felt it was a bit early to start taking on fluids.
At the beginning of mile 3 the track you follow is quite narrow and while you could pass if necessary it was so early in the race that there was no real point. I stayed behind just following pace. There were a couple of points where it was unsure under foot and the guy in front took a big tumble, grazing both his arms. He was up on his feet and running again by the time I reached him so no real harm done. There were a few little ups and downs here and couple of times I was brought to a slow walk as I had to walk through an overgrown blackberry bush come archway or open a gate but that was all part of the fun. Mile 3 8:06/mi
Mile 4 the route takes you past the famous Dancing Ledge, this is a flat area of rock at the base of a small cliff which doesn’t sound that impressive now I’ve put it down in words but it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in these neck of the woods! I was able to close in and pass a couple of runners along this mile stretch and pushed myself up to fifth spot. Mile 4 6:59/mi
The course turns inland for mile 5 and half way into this mile I hit the first major hill which went on for roughly a mile. I watched the runners in front and matched them where they decided to walk, this did lead to me being taken but I knew I could gain back that place once I reached the top and did so. Mile 5 8;24
The next two miles took me through Worth Matravers along road and this part in particular is excellently marshalled, the difficult part on this split is running past the famous Square & Compass and not stopping for a lovely local ale!! Everyone in the pub cheered and clapped as I went past so I gave an appreciative thumbs up, smiled and ploughed on. Mile 6 7:33/mi (must have been an incline in this part looking at that split but I can’t remember it), Mile 7 6:08/mi
The next mile I entered familiar surroundings, with the course taking up part of the Beast route, I also caught Simon from Purbeck Runners who is just behind me in the Trail Series standings. Mile 8 7:22/mi We ran up Kingston Hill together having a chat and this seemed to take my mind of the hard slog up his hill, we both stopped for a drink at the water station and it was here I decided that I would stop at each one as the temperature was increasing and I didn’t want to dehydrate.
Now back on the road heading towards towards the village of Kingston, there was a small crowd through here and someone had kindly chopped up loads of oranges for all the runners which I thought was a lovely gesture! I did nearly go wrong here as I just followed the route of the Beast, thankfully Simon and Marshals shouted and I quickly got back on the route!!
With me now entering new territory I started looking left at right and enjoying the scenery, mainly farmed fields but quaint all the same. Mile 9 8:07, Mile 10 7:08
We got back on the off roads but other than that I can’t remember a thing other than…. I’m sure it was lovely! Mile 11 7:30, Mile 12 6:48 /mi
Now Mile 13 7:49/mi I do remember as it was when we ran past Kimmeridge Bay, now Kimmeridge is a great place to go fossil hunting with the kids and running past it from afar was cracking!
But once I took in those views it then got tough with a hill climb, I was uming and arghing on what to do here as my quads were beginning to burn up, I decided to just walk the final part. A couple of runners passed me here including Simon, nicely they checked I was alright so I told them I was choosing my battles. I picked up the pace again once we started descending, stopped for another drink and then picked up the pace catching and passing Simon once more…..I got the feeling this was going to be a bit of cat and mouse today between us two! Mile 14 8.56, Mile 15 6:51/mi
I then hit the hill I had been most warned about…. Ridgeway Hill, which is in the village of Tyneham.
The village was requisitioned just before Christmas 1943 by the then War Office (now MoD) for use as firing ranges for training troops.225 people were displaced, the last person leaving a notice on the church door:
Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.
This measure was supposed to be temporary for the duration of World War II, but in 1948 the Army placed a compulsory purchase order on the land and it has remained in use for military training ever since.
This hill is 456ft of steep elevation and I just looked at it and thought “No way am I or anyone else gonna run up that!!!”. I was half right as while I was walking up this monster a couple of runners jogged past me, I thought “yeah I bet I get them by the end of the race” I got that one completely wrong! Mile 16 12:48/mi
The next miles were enjoyable running along the crest of the hills, simply enjoying the views. There were a few ups and downs, climbed over a fence, ran through a few stiles..you get the picture. One thing I was pleased of was the next water stop , temperatures were beginning to really pick up and I knew I was losing salts as I could feel it dried upon my face and arms so conscious I need to drink more and keep taking my isotonic gels. Mile 17 7;46, Mile 18 8:06/mi
Once you get to to Mile 19 8:12 and Mile 20 7:30/mi you can see Corfe Castle in the distance in all it’s glory…well not exactly all it’s glory as it’s a castle in ruins but it looks impressive all the same…
You hit a nice decline which I took more cautiously as mindful my legs were beginning to tire, you then run up to and around the castle entering the little village. This bits nice as there is always tourists here so a lot of people cheered as I ran through this bit. You cut through the village, including an alley, a railway line (I didn’t need to but you get stopped if Swanage railway is coming through here) and back on to the trail. Mile 21 7:59/mi
Just when you think ok this is tough but it’s going alright not long to go now BOOM you face another hill and this one goes on for about 3 miles!!!!!!! It starts of quite steep at 271ft, decided to walk this bit (Mile 22 12:00/mi), then goes up another 119ft, decided to walk/run this bit (Mile 23 10:14/mi) and finally goes up another 97 ft (Mile 24 9:33/mi), decided to run this bit!
I’ve never cramped before whilst running but through these 3 miles my hamstrings and quads both began to cramp up badly, one particular painful one was going through a gate and I had to hop to one side and stretch till the spasm released….and then star running again! This section took a lot of mental strength as it just seemed it would never end. While I was do my best to try and enjoy it, even telling myself “wow look at that view” I just couldn’t the pain in my legs and exhaustion was just horrible! I now look at the photo below and think yeah it was spectacular looking over Swanage but in the moment…NOTHING!
The good news is that now was all downhill and this bit I really enjoyed with it being quite technical, you can tell my legs were in a bad state here as I only did the -389ft descent over Mile 25 in 7:33 /mi
You’ll then on to the road and on the home straight, I passed another marathon runner here I just kept to a comfortable pace knowing that this race was half a mile over marathon distance (practically an Ultra). Mile 26 7:23
The final part is along the beach front and it was here I spotted my boys waving and cheering and this gave me such a big boost! I turned the corner and the runner I had passed was now upon me and I was just about to go for a sprint when I saw my boys once more who had run around to cheer me on some more….at this moment I thought sod it have the place I’m finishing this race with my little men! I shouted to them to join me and that’s how I finished this race, hand in hand with the people I most love in this world!
I finished the race in 9th place with a 3:34:32
So would I recommend this race? Yes definitely with loads of superlatives but it’ll also come with a massive health warning that it’ll be the hardest race they’ve ever encountered!! Would I ever run it again? NOT A CHANCE, in fact the first thing I said to my wife was “don’t ever let me do that again!”.
Oh heads up I’ve stolen loads of these photos from other peoples facebook, so thank you to all the runners that did take their cameras otherwise I would have had to become as descriptive as Tolkien to provide you with the beauty of this course!