The Ox 50 – from White Star Running

So, I’m sitting here reflecting on another weekend in Dorset.  Or is it Wiltshire.  I’m not sure anymore.  OK, so a weekend on the Dorset/Wiltshire border.

This was my third 50 miler and the last big race before I tackle the South Downs Way 100.  I wanted a confidence boost.  I wanted this to convince me that the 100 miles is going to be OK.  I wanted to get to the end of 50 miles and still feel OK, knowing that I could keep putting one foot in front of the other for a while (probably around 16 hours).

So, the Ox weekend happens on the Rushmore Estate (as does the Larmer weekend from White Star Running).  It’s beautiful.  It takes about 10 minutes to drive from the entrance of the estate to the race HQ.  That’s how big the estate is.  Seeing the lambs jumping and playing around first thing on Saturday morning fills me with joy.

The race is 8 laps, resulting in a total distance is 50 miles (ish).  This means 8 visits to my own aid station, which is good prep for the 100.  The course has everything.  Amazing trees, varying terrain, long slow up hill sections, lovely long shallow descents and steep up hill climbs and difficult, technical downs.

Even with 8 laps it doesn’t get boring.  OK, well laps 7 and 8 may have become a little tedious, but at least we knew what was ahead of us.

This is what the course looks like.  Oh yes, and there’s a lot of wild garlic.

20170506_07305020170506_07323320170506_07365820170506_07481420170506_08000320170506_08092820170506_08174420170506_08261420170506_08312520170506_085755

The goal was 12 hours.  Take it steady and go at the planned pace for the 100.  The course was slightly less hilly than expected, so we came in under that, but were still running all of the flat and down hill sections right to the end.

Ox

So, mission accomplished.  Confidence boosted and every step powered by plants.  Now, to stay injury free until the start of June.

18342817_10211754412929280_7539649610617595237_n18342061_10212569253926657_5294817548800679743_n18274892_10154566416453870_3493972859153979424_n

There was something that really struck me about this weekend.  Probably more than any other weekend away with lyrca people in the middle of nowhere.

This weekend had such a diversity of people.  There were people of all shapes, sizes and ages, plus a lot of fancy dressers.  I loved seeing the canicross participants, who gave me the chance to chat with their dogs and took my mind off the goal for a while.  Everyone said ‘well done’ to their fellow runners.  That’s all it takes to pick you up again.

We hear a lot about participation.  About getting people off the sofa.  parkrun registered its highest number of participants ever last weekend.  Our running club is going from strength to strength with race entries growing.  We have just had the London and Brighton marathons with more people seem to be thinking ‘I can do that’.  The increase in mental health awareness and the positive effect of running and being outside on mental health is great to see.  I think that we all get a release when we disappear for a weekend in the countryside.  Nothing else seems to matter.  It’s just you and the hills.  No mortgage, no credit card bills, no job worries.  This is one of the reasons why we do it. We enter a different world.

But I still hear and see a fear of trail running though.  There really is nothing to fear and you don’t have to do daft distances.

Weekends like the Ox races are perfect if you want to get involved in trail running.  If you don’t fancy the 50 miles or 12 hour races on Saturday, you can do the Dark Ox (10k on Saturday night in the dark, the Light Ox (10k on Sunday morning) or the Ox Half on Sunday morning.

These races are much more relaxed than road races.  There is no time pressure, as no-one will ask you how quickly you finished.  Every trail course is so incredibly different, times really do vary much more from course to course.

Where else do you get a Race Director who dresses up as a Mexican wrestler for the race brief and then gives you a high five as you leave race HQ on the first lap?  And where else has an aid station with a man in a kilt, a badger sporran and a sombrero serving booze?

18301835_10211753381903505_8851399285724554537_n
18300955_10211753680350966_2242809411737199044_n
Trail races give you the best aid stations.  Cake, sweets, biscuits, savoury, booze and love.

18268543_10154566416743870_3153884234185739936_n
18300856_10154566416543870_9045457861920284001_n

These smaller off road events offer a certain type of intimacy that road races can’t offer.  You really feel like a club away from home.  You see many familiar faces, many of whom have just spent the night camping on top of a hill in the cold in a howling gale.  If that doesn’t bring people together then nothing will.

I’m not a huge talker on races.  I really do like to keep myself to myself.  It’s my space. Me, my head and my skinny legs.  However, at White Star Running events (and many of the lower key trail events) I am finding myself chatting more and more.  11 hours on your feet is a long while after all.

That’s it really.  if you haven’t already done it, give trail running a go.  It really is fun and you don’t have to look at cars, houses and roads.  Instead, you get trees and birdsong.

18222105_10156180871828306_2471090081339706236_n

A huge thank you to Andy and the whole WSR team.  I can’t think of anything that I would have changed (apart from making the pub a little closer to our B&B and blaming you for that would have been a little harsh).  The marshals were amazing.  It is impossible not to tell the world about the Lovestation.  The vegan cake was the best.  The cider and the vodka we had on the last lap was so nice.  Thank you to our fellow runners for the smiles, the encouragement and the company.

Take care and please be good to animals.

Much love to you all and see you at the Cider Frolic.

18402981_10154571052268870_5029975967853830993_n

Some of the photos are courtesy of Rob Hannam and Elzbieta Rembelska.  They are brilliant.  We can’t thank you enough for taking these.

Larmer Tree Weekend by White Star Running

The Larmer Tree weekend was one of those big adventures.

We rented a lovely Air B and B cottage in Shaftesbury, about 15 minutes from race HQ.  We went over on Friday night after work and hit the pub to watch the Wales rugby game as soon as we arrived.

20170311_144900

The last time Nick and I were here was for the End of the Road Festival about 8 years ago. It was a bit bizarre being here on very different business. We looked like this back then.

20170314_074532.jpg

The first race of the weekend was the Larmer 10 miles.  The aim was to do a back to back weekend, so that I had tired legs on Sunday for the main event, the marathon.

The alarm was set for 6.30 for an 8.30 race start.  As always, registration is easy and the coffee wonderful.  The weather was misty, which restricted the views sadly, but at least we couldn’t see the tops of the hills that we had to climb.

20170311_074329

Andy (Race Director and Mr. White Star Running) gave his usual race brief, you know, ‘don’t die, run a bit, it’s muddy’.

20170311_08275320170311_082733

So, we were off, along the road off into the paths, mud and woodland that would be our hosts for the next couple of days.

20170311_08335820170311_08383120170311_08460820170311_08491320170311_085301

The first hill is at 6km.  It’s a beauty.

20170311_09062020170311_090813

The big hill was followed by a bit of undulation, a bit of flat and a lot of downhill for over 2 miles.

20170311_09141020170311_09160320170311_09164420170311_09195720170311_092211

And then it was the next challenge.  A steep hill, followed by a circuit of a lovely valley.

20170311_09394820170311_09401820170311_09421920170311_09422420170311_09431720170311_094709

And then it’s flat or downhill all the way home (apart from the climb back to the start)

20170311_09501720170311_100243

And that’s it.  10 miles seems to fly by when you’ve been doing a lot of longer races recently.  It was very pleasant as well.

L10
I was meant to be taking it steady, but really loved it and did it a little quicker than expected.  There you go.   1 hour 44 minutes of pure joy.

So it was back to race HQ, where they were serving really lovely food and selling the ever popular WSR merch.  The food was free by the way.

20170311_11002120170311_11003420170311_110045

While some of the team were getting a massage we had a stroll around the grounds, remembering where the stages were for the End of the Road Festival.  We bumped into several of these  these little beauties, the symbol of the race weekend.

20170311_120333

After that, the world was our lobster.  Home, a quick shower and then a walk around historic Shaftesbury (including Hovis Hill – here is the link to the original advert – Hovis Ad) before heading to the pub for some beer, some food and then home to bed for an early night.

20170311_145609

Marathon start time was 8.30am as well.  We already had our numbers.  We had packed the night before, so all we had to do was to load the cars and get ourselves done to race HQ for 8am to get ready.

The marathon is soooooooooooooooo lovely.  Hilly, mud, slippy, slidey, but above all lovely.  Some of it takes in part of the 10 mile course from the previous day.

I changed my usual race plan.  I really held back to start with.  I’m not totally well at the moment and I wanted to check out the pacing for the South Downs Way 50, which is coming up in 4 weeks.

The best way to describe the course is in pictures.  I can’t find the words to say how utterly fantastic it was.  The views at the top of the hills were stunning.  Well worth walking up.  The hills were tough.  They were long and muddy.  Energy sapping and difficult to get any traction on at times.

20170312_09131320170312_10123420170312_10151820170312_10180820170312_10194020170312_10195520170312_10204220170312_10250620170312_10285620170312_11004320170312_12535220170312_125404

And this is how up and down it is.

LM

Deciding to take the first half of the race easy meant that I managed to spend a lot of time with Nick (and Karen), which never really happens during races.  It was brilliant.  I do spend time during races wondering how she’s getting on and it was great to be able to see it at first hand.

17103753_10154417249693870_7270480031641941891_n

So, I got to half way in 2 hours 44 mins.  I did the second half in 2 hours 34 minutes, giving a finishing time of 5 hours 18 minutes.  The second half of the course was also more difficult than the first half.  This is exactly what I needed to achieve.  There was definitely something left in the tank and the terrain on the SDW50 will not be a tough as this, although the amount of climbing is the same.

This weekend is a perfect introduction to trail running.  Tough but not too tough.  10 mile, half marathon, 20 mile and marathon options available.  Lovely people, great marshals, lots of fancy dress, incredible location, route impeccably marked (it is impossible to get lost) and the medals are beautiful for those of you who collect pretty bits of metal.

17155814_10154420033378870_7339231758720304527_n

A huge thank you to Andy and the White Star Team.  We will see you again for the Ox.  Thank you to Rob for the fantastic photos as always.  Thank you to the lovely runners.  I’m not a big talker during races, but I really loved the chats.  I especially enjoyed the chat with the Vegan Runner who caught me up while I was saving a worm from being crushed on the trail.  ‘Without worms and bees, we are nothing’ were the words of wisdom that I brought home with me from Wiltshire.

Next up is the South Downs Way 50.  Have fun.

#fuelledbyplants

Bovington Marathon 2016

So, it was time for the Bovington Marathon.  The last of the White Star Running events for this year, the inaugural event at this location and my second marathon in 2 weeks.

During the week leading up to the race, Andy (Race Director) was posting the usual videos of the venue and the course. On this occasion we were treated to the warnings of the water obstacles as well as a glimpse of the wonderful countryside.

Somehow, WSR managed to get permission to use the Ministry of Defence tank training site in Dorset, home county for most of their races.

Our weekend started with a parkrun (an attempt to get Nick to her 50th parkrun around her 50th birthday), followed by a 2 and a half hour drive over to Dorset and the Premier Inn in Poole.

By 5.30, the 7 Burgess Hill Runners who were running the half and the full marathon the following day had started their alternative Christmas Party, as this race fell on the same weekend as the real party back home.  Probably not the best prep in the world, especially as we were still in the pub at 10.30.

15355764_10154154874138870_2027979647965681249_n15355816_10209147104929124_1407082423316830144_n

So, 6 hours sleep later, it was time to get up.  It was still dark outside and my body was asking why I’d had 6 pints of local ale the night before.

Time for a bit of make up and we were off on the 30 minute drive to the start.

15326468_10154156401928870_1410150393930727334_n

It was really foggy outside, which meant that it was really cold, adding to our reluctance to summon the energy and the will to leave the warmth of the car.

15326438_10154157586078870_1341619727565288706_n

We had no idea what to expect from the course as it was the inaugural event, although mud, hills, tank tracks and shin high water obstacles were inevitable and it certainly didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts.

It was possibly the most complicated course layout I have ever seen, but the hills didn’t offer huge amounts to fear (don’t think that makes it easy – mud makes up for hills).

map
elevation

At 9am, we’re off, but not before the race brief and safety announcements.  This is the first and last race brief where I will hear them say ‘if you see anything that looks like a grenade, don’t pick it up as it probably is a grenade’.  Followed by ‘have fun – don’t die’.

The first couple of miles are pretty flat and then you come across the first water hazard.

15337495_10154157586533870_2844452147624852952_n15401114_10154157586703870_3118292918854972413_n
15442292_10154157586953870_7322023693978644871_n

There were 2 options.  Queue and go round the edge or straight through the middle.  No prizes for guessing which one I took.  Splish splosh.

It is then pretty much uphill until the 10k mark.

15073569_10154157588963870_3112952778846423207_n15380777_10154157587873870_7524120166071915269_n15380332_10154157588618870_2712089848639480538_n15356495_10154157587098870_1861581130351473682_n

I really wasn’t expecting it to be this lovely.  The forest was amazing and the fog was perfect for taking lovely pictures.  I was just lost in my own little world of loveliness.

15380778_10154157589263870_7129068082372611767_n15350723_10154157589658870_7522211961762586688_n15380418_10154157591238870_6127255321194346594_n15327508_10154157591108870_6749318598637001851_n

Once the hill is finished, you hit the tank tracks and the open spaces with the tanks roam in their natural environment.  This is tough.  It’s muddy with close, gentle undulations.

15400505_10154157590733870_4815581505879364765_n15356523_10210403023265383_8805019044001324496_n

The terrain is also very varied with open sections of muddy trail, stony, sandy pathways and heath land.

15439913_10154157593028870_6202991870025544827_n15355720_10154157592208870_7792629200200565259_n15350507_10154157593668870_485087586918755286_n15326563_10154157591013870_3737805851595670599_n

Of course, there is also the odd tank shattered around here and there.  This is a MOD training site after all.

15349732_10154156767383870_2376032326419713874_n15338674_10154156767293870_2145120349915777297_n

So this is me at the end.  Being the tree hugger than I am, I was very pleased to see the ‘Make Cakes Not War’ sign.  This being WSR, the medal is huge and very impressive.

15338659_10154157593968870_5325119080633021181_n

I think that this was probably the best trail marathon that I have run this year, maybe ever.  Not a negative split, but not far off.  The last 3km were in the top 10 quickest km’s of the whole race, which means that I got the pacing right and there was still something left at the end.  I finished in 4 hours 47 minutes.

I did suffer from number 2 toilet problems again.  3rd race in a row.  Not too bad, but still enough to want to sort it out.  These 3 races have been the first 3 that I have used Tailwind on, but maybe it had something to do with the spicy bean burger and the gallon of ale I had on Saturday night.

Again I fuelled on Nakd bars, mixed dried fruit and Torq jels (jels added on this race), as well as Tailwind.  Oh, and the vegan cake at 2 of the aid stations.  Mmmmmmmmmm.

From the comments on social media, it appears that everyone had a great day.  A few people got lost (as did I), but it doesn’t matter.  You don’t win awards like this without doing something right and WSR do pretty much everything right.  Trail marathons are about seeing the countryside, pushing yourself, meeting people and having fun.  Bovington delivered on all fronts.

15326442_10154157586358870_7298844599151159326_n

So that’s the end of my running year, apart from a couple of parkruns and a few steps closer to my 100 t-shirt.

This year has seen another big step forward.  I completed my first two 50 mile races, including my first Centurion race.  There were another 7 marathons, including back to back marathons at Bad Cow.  Sussex Trail Events and White Star Running have formed the back bone of these events, mainly because they’re the daddies and they make me happy.

A huge amount of thanks go to everyone who has made 2016 so brilliant.  All of the coaches and fellow club mates who have advised, encouraged and pushed me along the way.  To Philippe for being just awesome and being the best company throughout many of the races this year.  To Jon Lavis (at Sussex Trail Events races) and Rob Hannam (at the White Star Events) for taking such great photos and helping to build a memory bank, as well as helping to make a much more interesting blog.  And to Nick for being herself in all her amazingness and inspiring me to go quicker so that she doesn’t beat me.  The 2 photos below are my favorites of the 100’s taken from this year.

13823206_10153520771081184_813482206_n13876382_10153786467433870_3135748106330989161_n

Next year sees the first challenge early on in January with Country to Capital, then the SDW50, Ox50 and SDW100, with several marathons scattered around in between.

Still hoping my knees don’t give up soon.

Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year and please be kind to animals.

Neil.

#fuelledbyplants

Bad Cow Marathon – Saturday 22nd August

So the second part of our White Star Running odyssey was the Bad Cow marathon, having completed the Dorset Invader marathon in July.

11217956_10153081439418870_6912259292643195438_nThis was the first ever staging of this event for the White Star team, so it was new to all of us.

11954717_10153081439713870_4465904862653628660_n

The Bad Cow weekend consisted of a marathon and early evening 10k on Saturday and then a marathon and half marathon on the Sunday.  The course is laps of approximately 5.3km, making the marathon 8 laps.  It’s flatter than other White Star events.  However, it’s not flat.  It’s all relative.  If you’ve done 3 Forts, Steyning Stinger, Beachy Head, Dorset Invader, Giant’s Head and so on, you’ll find it pretty flat.  The total climb is 288m over the 8 laps.

Map

To make this more of an adventure and a bit of a ‘holiday’, we set off on Friday afternoon through the painful rush hour / New Forest traffic to arrive at around 6pm.  The 2 second pop up tents are set up in around 5 minutes and we pop down to register, get our numbers and have our pre-ordered food.

One of the beauties of these events is that this is all so easy.   15 minutes after setting up the tents we have our numbers, lovely food and a beer in hand.

The food was provided by MYO.  You could pre-order it and there was a range of pasta, gnocchi and burgers.  They were all very nice at £6 each.

11873726_10153079537018870_8081571952188907605_n

We were fed and watered by 7.30, so we decided to have a walk to the local pub (about a mile away on foot) for a bit more watering.  About 2 minutes into the walk Andy, the Race Director, came up behind us in his car and gave us a lift on his way home.  Now that we a very pleasant and lovely surprise.

So 3 pints later we walked home.  It was pretty much dark and the camp site was filling up.  We went straight off to bed ready for the challenge of the next day.

I got a good old sleep, punctuated only by a sprint across the field to the toilets (Did I not mention that they have real toilets and a shower block?  Well they do, and they were great).   I woke up around 5am and watched the sun come up.  Why wouldn’t you?  It’s a beautiful morning, I don’t get to do that too often and I’m as excited as hell.

1920380_10153084951053870_5342160861184562845_n

I spent 90 minutes listening to the birds and the local beasties waking up, while tucking into my ample breakfast.

11953132_10153084950818870_3656622160613284736_n

The real silence is broken about 7am when Andy drove around the campsite with music on full volume and a loud speaker announcing that breakfast was served and it was time to get up.

So, it was time for breakfast number 2.  The MYO team were serving hot food (bacon rolls, sausage baps, crepes, porridge, tea and coffee).  The sun was up, it was getting warmer and we were eating breakfast in the lovely open air while the organisers finished the set up.

11866503_10153081439278870_372792815574764437_n

11890953_10153084951168870_2393637013131134424_n 11904637_10153081439458870_3815881476736973181_nThere was then the sudden realisation that it was starting to get really hot and we had a marathon to run.

11903968_10153084951113870_4111665252377844411_n

I had a quick shower (Did I mention them?  Oh yeah) and got ready.  It’s a 2 minute walk from the campsite to the start/finish where Andy delivers the usual White Star-style race brief.

11885339_10153081439638870_427772948266845209_n

11227870_10153081439918870_8758981133008641569_n

11904039_1017823888248896_5896125107638793774_n

There were cows near the start finish area.  Mike the Bull had the look of an animal who knew the race could have been named after him.

11953230_10153081439778870_6483278507792429663_n

11933425_10206732036293003_387017932152810644_n 11900073_10206732036973020_4989286693139043532_n

Time for a quick Burgess Hill Runners team photo before we start.

10985438_10153081440008870_6233218683660869207_n

And we’re off.

20641902290_f0f2d952d4_o

Right from the start it’s pretty obvious that this is not flat and is not going to be easy.   After a short incline you descend through a field with great views of the harbour before the first climb, which is about 200m long, before you descend to the Love Station.

20837044011_9ece057600_o

This is like an Aid Station, but nicer.  It’s one of 2 aid stations on the course, the other being on the start/finish line.

20820439432_92f60f0a50_o

20837045741_13978905d1_o

11095476_10153081440738870_7624698735166263344_n

20829923085_556310208c_o

11903780_10153081440098870_1901693774564904847_n

20637346308_8ec8ba5598_o

It’s then along a private road for 350m (downhill), then straight off road through the zig zags, which are a mixture of open heathland and covered wooded areas.

11887913_10153081440133870_4070168597889064609_n 11880653_10153081440193870_5110822108828980427_n 11870759_10153081440523870_3020719521081216882_n 11885083_10153081440348870_6743441732712648201_n

20643125269_a1ff655b82_o

11924237_10153081440893870_2712225977161180519_n 11923209_10153081440438870_7472072819846648236_n 11953230_10153081440283870_7227665287417267476_n

The campsite and the race HQ keep popping into sight, as we never stray too far away from the centre of events.

You emerge out of this section into an open field before a lovely twisty turny bit that takes you past the spooky tree (it’s a tree that’s been hit by lightning really) and the stone circle before heading up the steepest hill (it’s not that bad and it’s an excuse to walk).

20816413362_0324ce8262_o

11951168_767186906724387_2580227879190052875_n

11892110_10153081440718870_3622894947780250275_n

You head out into the open with a beautiful view of the sea, before the descent down to the start/finish area.

Simple.  Just do that 8 times.

People don’t like laps, but I didn’t get bored of these laps.  It was a nice way to break a marathon down.  I usually split them into parkruns, so the organisers did this for me.  The tough thing was the weather.  It got really hot (unlike Bad Cow Sunday, when it rained).  I don’t go well in the heat.  Luckily the wonderful people from Bingley Harriers set up an impromptu water station about 1.5k from the end of each lap after a couple of laps.  They must have seen that people were starting to wilt.

20799583466_b91d249249_o

So, my race.  As I said, I don’t do heat very well.  I’m a pasty bloke from Lincolnshire.  I much prefer training in February than August.  I’m also not always the cleverest of runners either.  I find it hard to stop at aid stations to ensure that I take on the relevant food and drink through fear of losing time standing still.  I was determined to ensure that I did take the correct precautions this time and I managed it.

My approximate lap splits are as below:

32 mins 20 seconds
32 mins 40 seconds
33 mins 30 seconds
32 mins 40 seconds
34 mins 52 seconds
37 mins 17 seconds
36 mins 40 seconds
39 mins 00 seconds

There is an obvious slow down.  That’s to be expected with the heat and I also stopped at all 3 aid stations for longer periods and on the start/finish line I stopped several times to get my bag and take a hydration tablet.

There was very little in the way of walking and I didn’t slow as much as I could have done.  The goal was to go somewhere between 4.30 and 5 hours, so 4.39 was a real result.

11896234_10153081447993870_3014363234615272431_n

As a warm up for Downslink, this can only be seen as a success.

At the end of the race we sat in the finishing area to cheer all of the runners in.  The finish area has such a great atmosphere and it is a pleasure to be able to see other runners cross the line.

The moto of White Star Running is ‘Keep Running Rural’.  It could also be ‘Keep Goodie Bags Local’.  Local cider and fudge are included.  Given that there was a Bad Cow marathon on Saturday and Sunday, it would have been easy to make a buff to cover both days, but no, not these people.  That’d would be too easy.  There’s one for Saturday and one for Sunday.  The medal, as you can see, is brilliant.

11953046_10153084951228870_997847080305679371_n

It’s a real measure of the care taken by the organisers that they get a flag for each of the countries of their regular runners and put the WSR moto onto it and Philippe was certainly not left out.

11896105_10153081439483870_3879749984858148217_nFinally, you know how great it is to get the link to post marathon photos and then you realise that you can’t really afford to buy one (well that’s how I feel anyway).  Well, none of that here.  I think I saw 5 photographers out on the course.  They upload their photos to a flickr group for everyone to use.  A huge thank you to these volunteers.  You really are the icing on the cake of a brilliantly organised event.

11221578_886180971437643_5554990059972250555_n 11924191_886183834770690_2357311363459799801_n 11904635_886185664770507_2484374029470085455_n 11888056_10206732108974820_3650993759580416062_n 11949274_1663581883855407_3249729297121464528_n 11895944_1663579507188978_6288096025810667389_n

The photographers really did capture all of the emotions of marathon day, but the one below really is the best.  This is what it means to get there.

11870885_10206732357981045_2414876652669701109_n

I can’t recommend White Star Running enough if you’re looking for a calm, laid back, low key, trail event. Check these races out for next year.  We will do all of them over the coming few years.  I’m a bit annoyed that some of them clash with events we have already booked for next year, but in 2017 we will plan our running diary around some of the WSR events.

Take care all and thank you so much White Star Running.

Next stop Downslink.

Neil.

 

Dorset Invader Marathon 2015

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.

20150717_190417

19180313243_d91786badf_k

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.

20150717_192937 20150717_192941

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.

20150717_195046 20150717_195100

20150717_212521

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.

20150718_061924

20150718_054810

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.

20150718_084550

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.

20150718_084035 20150718_083329

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.

20150718_085236 20150718_085228 20150718_085217

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.

20150718_090425

19808496805_40889d9234_k

19620485018_26a9939b2d_h

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.

20150718_090638 20150718_090705 20150718_091107 20150718_091754 20150718_092016 20150718_095007 20150718_095919

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.
20150718_102920

The great views keep coming and the temperature keeps rising.

 

20150718_110758 20150718_111348 20150718_113352 20150718_133200

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.

course

19795002072_e9bece38e5_k

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.

20150718_125159 20150718_111335 20150718_110624

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.

20150718_141532

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.

19618901610_02115cfaad_kAnd there is the finish in all it’s glory.

20150717_192521

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.

11742797_10153014239363870_4130588698498478724_n

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.

20150718_134213

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.

20150718_083448

Take care and tanks again, Neil.

(photos are mine or courtesy of the flickr feeds of Andy Robbins and Mark Way)