There were more reasons for me not to do the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series (CTS) Marathon in Dover than there were for me to do it. In the interest of banality I shall list them:
- The expense (275 miles each way plus a night stop)
- Half a day off work for travelling
- The fact that Ivybridge Everest was still in my legs from two weeks ago (54 miles, 18 hours, 6244m ascent, 6244m descent)
- The chest infection that I had been nursing for the past 10 days
- The mild stomach bug that started two days before the race. Just enough to make me feel hungry and nauseous at the same time for 48 hours.
- The treatment for large verrucae I have on the bottom of my right foot which is being done by a local podiatrist and makes it painful to walk.
They were trumped by a good weather forecast and what looked to be a stunning route. I had an entry for a couple of months, but I didn’t decide to actually go until Thursday afternoon when I saw the forecast and finally booked a local cheap hotel.
The forecast was bang on. The skies were clear and the wind was freezing. A perfect day for wrapping up and enjoying the countryside. Who wouldn’t want to spend a day running and walking the clifftops between Folkstone and Deal under such conditions?
Once started I was towards the front, for no good reason other than to ensure that I didn’t get stuck in the bottle neck as we ran down into Dover. We started at the National Trust centre on top of the White Cliffs and the first half mile was down some slippery and steep steps. As we ran along the sea front in Dover, past my hotel, I had to call back the leaders as they stomped past the signed right turn. Endurancelife did warn competitors to check the map and make sure they were familiar with the route through Dover. Apparently fast runners don’t also do route finding?! Oh well. I led the race for about 200 yards before they caught me again 🙂
Next we ran up and around Western Heights, a stunning fort looked after by English Heritage. Once again I called back folk in front as they charged past a signed right turn. We then ran along the coast before looping back on ourselves and through a tunnel, past a Channel Tunnel vent and on to Samphire Hoe, In typical Endurancelife sadistic fashion we then made our way onto the deep gravel beach. Trudging onwards at the base of the cliffs everyone’s pace dropped until we reached a more secure footing. A little while later we turned right and zig zagged our way to the top of the cliffs and checkpoint 1. 7 miles into the advertised 28.3 mile route.
I had felt pretty crappy until this point. Lots of aches and niggles worked their way out until I finally felt warmed up with my muscles moving more smoothly as we rolled into the first checkpoint. I grabbed a handful of Jelly Babies, a handful of crisps and moved on. The next quarter rolled along the clifftops for the most part as we made our way back to Dover. Some of the frozen ground was thawing now, making the going a bit more sticky and squelchy. I felt good and picked up a few places, stopping periodically to take a few pics.
As we ran back through Dover I pulled my treat out of my backpack. A bag of salt and vinegar Walkers crisps. Yum! I then walked up the steps back to the National Trust, grabbed a handful of Jelly Babies at checkpoint 2, 13.9 miles in, and topped up a bottle. It was cold so I was only drinking about 500ml per hour, and could get away with carrying slightly less than normal.
The next quarter was pretty brutal. The views were amazing, but the mud was so cloying. It stuck to the bottoms and sides of my shoes, making each foot feel so heavy. Each step was an effort, my glutes started to scream and my poorly foot was causing a skewed running gait. One of the leading ladies caught me at this point. I focussed and ran with her for a few miles. We traded places over and over without saying a word until we descended from the cliffs and another gravel beach section came into view. We stopped, walked and chatted for a bit before the pain in my hips and glutes caused me to slow dramatically. I walked/ran the last mile into checkpoint 3, the turnaround point at Deal. Here I grabbed more Jelly Babies, filled both bottles and added extra electrolyte as my calf muscles were starting to cramp. Before I could grab a handful of crisps a lady slipped while filling her Camelbak and dumped the contents into the container holding them. I didn’t fancy soggy crisps, so I gave the lady the most withering look I could muster (she didn’t notice) and staggered onwards. Each step a struggle. 21 miles in and with a long 7 miles to go. I gritted my teeth, put one foot in front of the other and gave myself a command. “RUN!”
I started off running to the next lamp post or hedge corner. I walked significant uphills and ignored my screaming muscles. This was the WALL. I had depleted my already low reserves and my body wanted me to lie down and stop. There was no way that was going to happen. I rationalised that if I walked this would be a long 2.5 hour leg. If I ran it would be a painful 75 minutes, then I could climb into my car, turn on the engine and let the heated seat do some magic. Out loud I kept saying “RUN!” as I pushed myself forward.
A couple of people overtook me, but then I overtook a few people as well. Some would be on the ultra rather than the marathon, but I didn’t have the energy to find out which. I staggered into checkpoint 4, just a water stop for those on the ultra and marathon, and was about to run past when I saw the food table. A gutteral voice that didn’t sound like mine said
“Jelly Babies.” and I shovelled some into my mouth. The voice then said
“Crisps.” And I shovelled some of those into my mouth.
I looked up to see the lady behind the table looking at me and laughing her arse off. The voice then said “RUN!” and I took off to tackle the last few miles.
I paused briefly as I saw the “1 mile to go” sign to take a picture of it. I then started talking to the chap that I was overtaking, Noel, it turns out that he ran the Fire and Ice ultra in Iceland in 2015 and would be marshalling it while I was taking part in 2016. I picked his brains as we walked and I lost a few more places. With about half a mile of slippery mud to go I left Noel and gave it everything. I clawed back two more marathon places as I sprinted in to the finish. That was easier said than done as I struggled through the mud to get through the 3m wide finishing line, sliding all over the place. My provisional timing was 5:36 and I was 34th out of 127 starters and 116 finishers. I think my highest CTS finish in several years of doing them.
It was a challenging and beautiful day out. The route was as varied as any route I have ever run and is one that I would recommend. The field was largely made up of the typical bonkers but friendly trail/ultra crowd. The weather was as perfect as you can get at this time of year, and I was glad of the extra layer or two that I decided to wear.
My only real gripe for the day would be that the good folk that run Endurancelife don’t seem to appreciate a prompt start as much as their customers. We eventually set off half an hour after the advertised start time, a tardy 0930. This happened the last time I ran with them as well, at the Gower a few months ago, and it would be enough to stop me signing up for their events next year unless they sort it. Another person that I spoke to felt the same. It is such an easy thing to sort out, hopefully they will.
Enjoy the full gallery of photos below. Today I shall mostly be hobbling slowly about south Devon in the search of burgers……HUNGRY!
Oh, and don’t forget: If all else fails…”RUN!”