I took part in the first Dorchester Marathon this year. It was excellently organised by White Star Running and featured a challenging but beautiful course. For a road marathon it has to be my favourite one so far, although the elevation profile is not going to help you with that negative split.
White Star Running’s organisational experience showed straight away with the event HQ, and start and finish, being on a farm just outside of Dorchester. When I drove in I was asked which way I would be going at the end of the day and was directed towards a spot that would make that as easy as possible. It was a happy coincidence for me that this was just a couple of hundred yards from the start line. I was also very early which helped.
My race number had been sent out in the post, so there wasn’t much for me to do other than to collect a piece of yellow ribbon to pin to my race shirt. The organiser had asked us to wear yellow in an act of remembrance for those lost at the Manchester bombings just a few days before the race.
There seemed to be just enough portable toilets to accommodate the number of people and I didn’t see the queues build up to anything substantial in my two pre-race visits to them. I had some time in hand, so I took a quick nap in my car. It all seemed quite laid back, perhaps that was just me?
After my nap I put my drop bag into the lorry as that put it even closer to the finish line than my car. I then walked with the other 700 people down the farm track to the start. We would be running back under the finish line and out onto the course which would take us through Dorchester itself and then out onto a single lap of the local countryside.
To set us off the local town crier gave a speech from the top of a cherry picker. It was in the form of a poem and I thought it was quite entertaining. Afterwards he rang his bell and we were off.
On the way around aid stations were placed at every 3 miles, with the White Star Running Love Station coming at mile 20. The Love Station is an aid station with a little something extra. Hugs, booze, sausage rolls, etc. It is always a nice touch, even if you are just whizzing through. Extra smiles and cheers are always welcome!
As the route wended its way around the countryside I made sure that I looked around occasionally, and it was worth the effort. The weather was warm and slightly overcast. Without cars on the road there was a peaceful tranquillity to the first half of the race. After the first half I couldn’t tell because as my focus shifted more to keeping pace and the quiet was shattered by the noise of my breathing. I’m sure the tranquillity was still there though….
As you can see from the profile above the biggest hill comes right towards the end, before the route eases off. Don’t let that final downhill fool you though, there are a couple of little blips that keep the needle in the red right until you get to the line. By this time you may also be in amongst some of the slower half marathon runners. It was really nice to see them and plenty of them were cheering on the marathon runners as they came through.
Once you do get to the line it is worth it. The medal is a substantial piece of tin, and is unashamedly DORCHESTER! I loved it. I collected my bag, avoided the queue for the changing facilities (lots of half marathon runners) and used my Dry Robe to get changed by my car. I wanted to get home, so I then skidaddled, but there were plenty of choices for post race food on site if I had wanted them. Also a massage tent and a few stalls selling things.
If you want a well organised challenge on a beautiful course then this is the road marathon for you. It isn’t a PB course, with over 300m of elevation along the route, but it is really enjoyable and one that I will return to. I love it when a whole town gets behind a running event and in that way it reminded me of the Frome Half Marathon which has a similar feel, but a much less impressive medal…..
My race – Something to prove
That’s the race report over. If you want to know specifically how my race went then read on. This section is a lot more personal and is more of a diary of the race for my own reference. There is info about pacing and strategy in there though which you may find useful.
I wasn’t meant to be in the Dorchester Marathon because I was meant to be in the Dragon’s Back all week. I had grabbed an entry for Dorchester much earlier though, and had intended not to show up for it. Unfortunately my Dragon’s Back attempt ended early because of a fall. You can read about that here. When I got back from Wales I opened my post and there was my Dorchester race number staring out at me. A little voice in my head said “why not?” But at that point I couldn’t bend my right knee thanks to a lot of swelling, and I had severe muscle soreness in my left leg from all the overcompensating it had done over Crib Goch and the Snowdon Horseshoe at Dragon’s Back.
Day by day my knee started to work better and on Thursday I was able to take the dog on a slow and short walk on the moors. On Friday I could use a roller on my right leg to loosen up the muscles around the battered knee. On Saturday I was able to use the foam roller on both legs without whimpering too loudly and disturbing my family…. On Sunday I found myself at the start of the Dorchester Marathon. A race plan had been forming in the back of my head as the week had progressed and I was ready to start. Starting meant that I would finish, but whether that would be in under 4 hours or a lot longer I wouldn’t know until I started running.
I knew the challenges that the race route would hold for me, and my pacing plan was simple. 5 minutes per km (8 min miles) and hold that for as long as I could. This put me on PB matching pace straight away. Effort wise it would feel fairly easy to start with and would put me bang on the effort level that science says I should be able to maintain for a marathon if I was fresh. I wasn’t fresh……obviously! But I am daft and stubborn, which help you to go further than you might think in a marathon 😉
My aim was to keep close to an even effort throughout which meant a lot of people overtaking me on the hills, only for me to cruise back past them on the flats and downs. Many of those folk gradually faded behind as they couldn’t maintain their boom/bust energy outputs.
For food I carried a 600ml bottle with 300 calories of energy drink in it. This would be enough to get me through the first half. At each aid station I tipped a cup of cool water over my head. The sun was starting to come out and it was already getting hot! Once the energy drink was gone I put the bottle in my bum bag and two packets of shot blocks gave me the energy to get to the end. I switched at halfway to drinking the cups of water at the aid stations and they started passing out cool wet sponges which were glorious.
My knee and previously sore muscles were evident from the start, but they didn’t get worse. At about halfway various other pains started to eclipse them as the intensity and repetitiveness of a road marathon started to take its toll. At halfway I was also slightly ahead of schedule averaging 4:57 per km. Now I just had to hang in there through the worst of the hills, heat and pain. From about halfway it was noticeable that the tone of the course had shifted to gradually uphill. The heat and my heart rate crept higher and higher and the rate of perceived effort escalated even quicker.
At mile 20 I ran into the Love Station. I could see several people holding handfuls of wet sponges. I was informed that I could only have a wet sponge if I had it with a hug. Before I knew it a tall lady in a tight pink top, long socks and short shorts was giving me a big hug while squeezing 4 cold wet sponges into the middle of my back. I squealed. She laughed. I politely thanked her and ran off, weaving in and out of the half marathon runners that I was now in amongst.
At about mile 22 a shudder went through my body and a voice in my head suggested that I join the people I was overtaking and walk it in to the finish. Another voice in my head simply said “no” and I pushed on. To be honest I expected my brain to put up more of a fight, but my wounded ego from Dragon’s Back simply stomped on the negative voice as firmly as my feet were stomping on the hot Dorset tarmac.
My pace had slipped with the increasing hills and was now bang on target pace at 5 mins per km as I crested the biggest hill with two miles to go. The rest of the course was downhill except for a two or three short sharp climbs. I just had to hang in there.
I came wheezing, rasping, thudding and possibly whimpering through those last two miles. I overtook one or two marathon runners and groups of half marathon runners. The last couple of hundred yards were flat and crowded. I was zigging and zagging through runners (politely of course.) Cheering crowds lined the finishing straight. Finally I crossed the line just 51 seconds outside my flat course PB which I had set exactly one year before in the Edinburgh Marathon.
What a result on a hilly course, and with everything I had been through in the last week. More importantly though it gave my brain the spring cleaning that it needed. I had to dig deep to keep the pace going. I had to focus 100% on what I was doing and I had done exactly what I needed to do. The shadow of the Dragon’s Back DNF will be with me until 2019 when I get another go at it. But here and now at Dorchester I had proven to myself that I was still a runner. I wasn’t a quitter. I could dig deep and push hard when I needed to.
My next big race is the North Downs Way 100 mile race in August. In preparation for that I will be doing the 58km Tsunami Race along the North Devon coastline as well as aiming for 80km at the 12 hour Cider Frolic a few weeks later.
See you on the trails.