As soon as I saw the route for the Portland round of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series (CTS) I knew that I had to enter if possible. The half marathon was one complete lap of Portland, plus a couple of miles of Chesil Beech thrown in for good measure. The marathon was two laps and the ultra was three. It was a decision that I didn’t regret. There is an excellent tip at the end of the article that is well worth reading through for. Read on for more race info and some pictures from race day.
We drove up from South Devon, leaving at 7am and arriving a couple of hours later. The start time for the half was 10:30, with the registration running from 08:30. My Dad came along to take the photographs and my wife came along for moral support, they were both fantastic. I have no idea how my Dad does it, but he pops up at all sorts of unlikely spots on the course and gets some great shots, usually arriving just a few moments before I get there. The weather was beautiful, but without the 20mph easterly wind it would have been very hot. As it was, I felt OK, and I managed not to get sunburned. It was my first race usage of Riemann P20 suntan lotion and it did the job beautifully. I applied it just after breakfast and it easily lasted throughout the race. I was also really pleased that it didn’t taste funny or cause my eyes to sting as the sweat rolled down my face.
The Endurance Life events use an orienteering/mountain marathon style dibber that you need to “dib” at various checkpoints and the finish. This gives you your time between the checkpoints and your overall position as you go across the line. In this race it was a mass start due to the number of people and the size of the paths early in the race. We all set off on time, with one or two people choosing to start a bit later to get a clear run. They still get an accurate overall position, they just have to dib at the start as well, however it does mean that your position across the line is not always your final position. You always need to remember to keep pushing, regardless of where you think you are in the field. This style keeps the costs down for the organisers and it is a really simple way of providing the electronic timing. It also helps to give the event a more relaxed feel, which I definitely approve of.
We started off on time and were soon climbing the first hill of the race, which was also the largest. It took us straight up to one of the highest points on Portland, and from there we pretty much followed the coastal path. The scenery was spectacular and there was very little congestion, even on the narrow paths. I did feel sorry for one of the female entrants, she obviously struggled from a fear of heights and one of the climbs was narrow, with a steep drop on either side. She did make it to the top though and I hope that she made it to the finish.
It was hard to tell who you were directly racing with, as we were soon mixing it up with the ultra and marathon runners, but that didn’t matter as it all added to the atmosphere. The scenery was really fantastic all the way around. The sea was on our left as we wove our way along, up and down the coastal path. When we got to Portland Bill there were lots of people around and nearly all of them were encouraging us on. Young families were great as the kids clapped and cheered as we ran by. We came around Portland Bill and turned back to head up the Western side of Portland, gradually climbing up to another high point on a wide track before descending down towards the dreaded Chesil Beach. I took it easy on the downhill in anticipation of what was coming and I was glad that I did. We ran along the top of the vast pebble ridge, with the stones shifting underfoot at every step. I fixed my gaze a few metres ahead and pushed down hard with each footfall. This had the affect of compacting the stones so that they didn’t move as much, but it was quite an effort and my calves were soon burning. Every now and then I would glance up to see the flag marking the turn point in the distance, then I remembered something that the organiser said about turning at the second flag. I repressed a groan and lifted my gaze, sure enough, about a mile after the first flag was the second one, flapping in the wind. I pushed on, made a couple of places and was soon back onto solid ground. There was no time to rest though as the finish was only 1.5 miles away.
At this stage my legs were hurting and my lungs were burning, but I pushed on and on. Just before turning into the sailing academy one of the people that I had passed on the beach caught me up and moved in front. I couldn’t have that, but I didn’t have much left. I pushed on and stayed as close to him as I could, then as we turned onto the finishing ramp I made my move. I accelerated and passed him, but it wasn’t over yet. I heard him start to come around and he bounded past just as we crossed the line. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to dib though, so he ended up finishing one place and a few seconds behind me. I’m sure that he wont do that again!
Oh, and just in case you wondered, I finished 10th out of 78 finishers. I was absolutely chuffed with that as it is my highest placing in a race to date.
Overall it was a fabulous race and great fun. Chesil beach presents an awesome challenge, but the feeling of satisfaction when you finish as immense. The briefing before the race covered everything that you could possibly need to know. The signage was discrete but obvious and I never doubted where I needed to go next. Just for entering you got to choose between a technical T-shirt or a sun visor, then once you cross the finish line you also get some dogtags with the race information on them, an Endurance Life wristband ( I wear mine all of the time), and some stickers and temporary tattoos. All-in-all it is a great haul and adds to the overall value of the event. The type of people that are drawn to this type of challenge tend to be very friendly and helpful and I couldn’t recommend the CTS events strongly enough. If you’ve never raced, or fancy something a little bit different, a lot more fun, and definitely more challenging then what are you waiting for? These events run approximately once a month from October through to May and are all over England and Wales.
Equipment and Nutrition
There is a required equipment list that you must carry if you are doing any CTS event longer than 10km. It is all logical equipment and it needs to be carried for your safety. On the event itself you will see everything from small bum bags to large, mostly empty, rucksacks to Camelbacks. You can carry the kit however you want and the same rule applies to everyone, so nobody is at a disadvantage. I have not encountered any equipment based snobbery, just use whatever you are comfortable with and can afford. This time I used an Inov-8 Elite 3 bumbag and it turned out to be a great choice, in the hot weather it was also a lot cooler than the small rucksack that I used last time. See my review of it here.
For breakfast I ate a large bowl of porridge with dried cranberries and raisins, plus a chopped banana and as much golden syrup as I could fit on a teaspoon. This was at about 06:30. I than drank 750ml of fluid containing Go Electrolyte (salts and energy) at 09:00 to top up my fluid and energy levels. My timing was perfect as I went to the toilet a couple of times before the race and didn’t need a pee stop during it. I then consumed four isotonic gels during the race to keep my energy levels up. Finally as soon as I finished I drank a bottle of chocolate Rego Rapid Recovery, with some added Cherry Active to help the muscle repair process. I continued to sip water with electrolytes in it for the rest of the day to top up my fluids and keep my body running properly.
I felt that my nutrition went as best as it possibly could on this occasion. I never felt that I was running out of energy and I kept my heart rate up the whole time. My stomach was as settled as I could hope for, considering the level of exertion, and I wouldn’t change anything for next time. As usual the Science in Sports products served me perfectly. I really haven’t found anything that I can digest as well as these.
Top Tip: Even if it is a hot day, do not save your drink. Try to stay as well hydrated as you can in the early stages of the race, without overdoing it of course, just listen to your body. I finished my water bottle containing SiS Go Hydro at about two thirds of the way around and I felt good for the rest of the race without having to top up further. If you try to save your drink then you will dehydrate sooner and once you are dehydrated you wont recover until after the race and your performance will drop because of it.