The people at White Star Running came onto my radar last year. I think that they were a suggested post on a social media feed, so I clicked ‘like’.
Over the past year I have been following their posts with interest. One of their events, the Giants Head Marathon won a big award last year and their events tick all of the right boxes. Fun, rural and low key.
So Nick and I booked up for the Dorset Invader and the Bad Cow Marathons, one in July and the other in August. We were joined on the Dorset Invader by 2 friends for our running club.
We had been drip fed information and videos about the event over the past few months. Andy, the Race Director, clearly excited about the event, shared information about the medals, course, camping, goody bags and so on. It really did look great. We were really excited. I really hoped that we were going to be disappointed.
So we left home around 4 on Friday afternoon, crawled through rush hour and arrived in the lovely Dorset countryside in time to set up camp and get down to the barn for tea and a couple of beers.
On top of the very reasonable entry fee (you get a lot for your money), you can also pay to camp for the weekend and you can buy tea on Friday night and breakfast on Saturday morning.
There is also a disco / get together type thing on Saturday night for those who can still walk / limp and can bear another night of sleeping in a tent.
The food is lovely. We all pre-ordered. There are pasta bakes (veggie options as well) and cottage pie. The bread is local and lovely and the dessert is apple or rhubarb crumble, which again is top notch.
We washed tea down with a few pints of local beer from the brewery a mile down the road before heading back to the tents to try to get some sleep.
I did try, but wasn’t too successful. It was supposed to be warm overnight, so why are we all freezing? With us being on a working farm, sunrise brought the cockerel to life, along with the foxes and any other animal that decided to make as much noise as they could. But that’s the countryside. That’s why we go there.
So, it’s 6 o’clock and 90 minutes until the proper breakfast, so I got up, had some smoked tofu and soreen as a breakfast starter and went over to the farm shop area to get my fellow campers a lovely cup of sugary tea.
We ordered breakfast for 7.30. They serve local bacon baps and porridge. The porridge is the type that sticks to your stomach on the way down. Lovely.
It’s around now that we remembered that we’re here to do a marathon. Best get ready.
Everyone is up by now. Just to make sure, the Race Director drove around the camp site with a huge amp in the back of the car announcing that it was time to get ready to race.
So, why is this event called the Dorset Invader? Well, the Romans used some of the land that we run through during their conquest. We were told that people would be in fancy dress, but I hadn’t expected anything like this.
9 o’clock approaches and we all start to make our way up the hill from the camp site to the start line and the full extent of the fancy dress becomes apparent. Many of the marshals and a good few runners have gone to some serious effort.
The Race Director delivers his race brief in the matter we’d expect. Funny, informative and straight to the point.
There is a slight delay to the start, but what a reason for it !!!! We are waiting for the centurion on horseback to arrive to lead us down the hill and onto the course. What a great touch this is.
We’re straight out onto the course with lots of different terrain and surfaces. There’s gravel and flint paths, cut corn fields, field edges and country tracks.
I set off slowly. As always I had a target time in my head. As it was getting increasingly hot and I didn’t really know what was ahead, I took a cautious approach. I was behind Nick, Philippe and Catherine most of the way until half way, catching up at the incredibly well stocked aid stations, where we were served by very happy people, many in fancy dress. The ‘Love Station’, which we visited twice, was amazing and they were serving cider.
The great views keep coming and the temperature keeps rising.
The hills aren’t that bad. There are hills, but when you compare it to 3 Forts, Moyleman, the Stinger and so on, it’s not so bad. It far from being flat though.
There was one hill especially that got me around 26k. Short and sharp and it really drained my legs.
The course is amazingly well sign posted, with the added bonus of Life of Brian quotes along the way.
As my split times reflect, I started to struggle around kilometre 35 / 21 miles. There was a whole section of single track which was overgrown with waist high grass. This was really draining. By the time I arrived at the ‘Love Station’ for the second time, I was pretty broken. I could hardly talk to the aid station staff and had to resort to pointing. I think that the heat was starting to get to me.
At this stage there were only 5.5 miles to go (only ha ha !!!!) and almost everyone around me was walking, so my run/walks meant that I was still overtaking people and I got a new spring in my step when I recognised a section that we had been through on the way out.
I loved the field in the picture above for 2 reasons. Firstly, it was beautiful, with the crops gently swaying in the breeze and secondly the chap at the entrance to the field told me that there were 1 and a half miles left.
After this field there was a downhill forest section which was cool and wonderful. At the end we were greeted by a lady ringing a cowbell and pointing us down the hill to the finish.
And there is the finish in all it’s glory.
How I’d been looking forward to seeing it and getting that medal round my neck. The medal is massive. The biggest medal I have ever seen. It weighs loads as well. The goody bag was also pretty impressive, including some locally made jam.
So I got home in 5 hours 24 minutes, which is more or less what I had in my head. I’m really pleased with the pacing and the discipline to start off slowly. I think that the sun got to me in the end. One of the things that this race taught me is that it’s not just about the hills when it comes to what makes an event more difficult. I think that the terrain on this event was the killer. Lots of rutted fields, slippery fresh cut corn stubble, tree roots, tall grass, gravel paths and brambles across the pathways. You really had to concentrate to stay on your feet at times.
One of the Roman themed signs said ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ Well, other than the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, public health and peace, they inspired the theme of this amazing event.
I knew that I was in the right place with the right people early on in my stay. In the queue for registration one runner was asked if he had any gels with him. He replied ‘no, but I’ve got a pasty in my back pack’.
This event got everything right. The location, the food, the atmosphere, the marshals, the medal, the aid stations. There was a little more road than expected, but some of that was down to a last minute diversion due to a problem with a field (only a max of 10% is on road in any case).
White Star Running you met expectations and went well beyond them. We’ll be back for the Bad Cow Marathon in August and for a couple more White Star events next year.
A massive thank you to the White Star Team, land owners, marshals, cooks, barmen and fellow runners for making this an event to remember.
This was one of the signs near the end.
I would have gladly paid more. One thing that you don’t pay for is the photos. There were volunteers out on the course snapping away.
Can’t wait until my next White Star Dorset experience.
Take care and tanks again, Neil.
(photos are mine or courtesy of the flickr feeds of Andy Robbins and Mark Way)