Throwing the kit in the car I picked up my fellow club runner Sam and we headed off to the latest stage of the EnduraceLife Coastal Trail Series 2010. I had already participated in the previous race (See Gower race report below) and today would see us head off to Portland on the South Coast in Dorset. As ultra distance was not an option on this course, I had opted in for the trail marathon instead.
The starting point and check-in was in Weymouth an outstanding place if you are mad about boats and the like -as it will soon be hosting the sailing part of the London Olympics 2012. The schedule for the day is slower marathon runners heading off first followed by the other marathon runners shortly after. The half marathon and 10k runners head off an our and half or so after we shoot off.
With a good turn out we all head off out of the hanger for a quick briefing a look around to idenitfy anyone wearing road trainers (for a good laugh) a few words of encouragement and we were off. The marathon runners hit 2 laps of the island (although I am not entirely sure why it is called an island) with a basic line following the coastal line around Portland.
Checking out a few forums and blogs I heard that this was a reasonably quick course so I shot off at a sub 6mm pace only to hit a very large hill within the first mile or so. I usually use the first few miles to warm up and get settled in so this hill was certainly most unwelcome at such an early part of the race. That said, it certainly woke me up. After a very short time to recover from the hill(s) we were presented with another hill which was impossible to run up and we were forced to the 'hands on knee' manoeuvre to get up, a quick pose for the camera at the top and away.
After a couple of miles I had a comfortable lead hitting the first checkpoint just over 17 minutes. Now, getting lost appears to be a common occurrence for me on the coastal series - shortly after a quick decent after the checkpoint I was presented with a path leading left and right of me. The problem was that 1 arrow pointed right and the other left! As with all these kinds of events there is always the risk of someone moving the arrows and it appears that someone found it funny to point the arrow in the opposite direction. It was a 50/50 so I took the left path only to be presented with a dead end half a mile or so down the track (i.e. the sea!). I must admit I was pleased to see the other runners following suite who had taken the left turn as well. It also meant that we all made the same mistake so it was an even field! There was a lot of time to make up -to put the diversion into perspective, the organisers estimate the mileage to be 26.9 miles - my Garmin recorded 28.17!
Anyway, after the little jolly we all dug in and got on with the race. The first lap went by quite quickly presenting some nice challenges, steep descents on wet rocks a few metres from the cliff edge and the sound of the sea smashing into the rocks and cliffs below. Some really beautiful scenes to be had. It wasn't long before the famous Portland Bill Lighthouse (do you remember the kid's cartoon!) came into sight which also indicated that checkpoint 2 was close by. A quick dab of the dabber and off for another long section across some grassland before hitting more cliff edge slowly bringing us down the the seafront.
It wasn't long before I went from tarmac to pebbles. Over a mile of pebbles in fact! I started the beach section quite promising with a sub 7.5mm on shingle / pebble beach but it wasn't long before the legs were struggling and I was down to 8.5mm for this section of the course. The worst bit is knowing that you have to do the section again another 13 or so miles later!
It wasn't long after the beach section that I was in the second lap of the route and about 10 mins behind the half marathoners. Up the hills again drop the pace to catch my breach and I was back into 6.5mm - I caught up with the half marathoners just before CP1 which was nice in a way that I had some company whist running but a little bit awkward when trying to run down the single lanes. Shouting "coming through" seemed to work in most cases but they were under no obligation to step aside if they didn't want to and some didn't - fair enough. This brought me down to a shuffle in some stages but it was probably a positive thing as it gave me time to recoup for a few seconds before hitting the coastal path again digging in and trying to complete the second lap.
Half way around the second lap the wind kicked in and it began to rain. The island is so exposed it wasn't long before I was soaked to the bone but I knew there was not far to go. A final MASSIVE slog across the pebble beach hit the final checkpoint and an attempt to push in a good time in the final section back to the HQ.
3 hours 23 minutes and 3323 calories later I passed the finish line.Job done. Although I was pleased with setting a new course record, this is by no means a quick time for a trail marathon - this is tough terrain and the pebbles make sure you know you have just completed a coastal trail run.
Top 3 men were:
1. Daniel Doherty - 3.23.01
2. David Spencer - 3.41.10
3. Mike Martin - 3.50.00
Full results for marathon, half and 10k can be found here.