So you know I like to go on and on about how White Star Running are just the best trail running company in the UK? Well if you’re sick of that, then best stop reading here. This weekend I trotted off to the all new Dorset Invader and I can honestly say I think this is the race that’s reset my attitude to running.
I spent most of last week in the hurt locker, going over and over what I had done wrong to make Devon Coast to Coast so hard. There were little to no physical issues (mainly because we did it so slowly) but mentally I was a bit fucked. I couldn’t see the point in what had done or understand that it was an achievement. I didn’t run all week, partially because I knew I had a marathon at the weekend, but mostly because FUCK RUNNING. Running is shit. It’s pointless and means nothing to anyone. I’m not even very good at it. Running was actually making me feel worse about myself, and I don’t need any help with that.
I’d been booked in to do the Invader for a while. I’ve done it a couple of times before, and it’s a hard, hilly, and usually with boiling hot or really wet (or both) trail marathon coming in at around 27 miles. Sometimes 28. Sometimes 29. Who knows, right? For 2019 it’s moved from East Farm near Blandford to Gerrards Farm near Bridport. It’s a beautiful part of the world, with the family run farm boasting 6 hill forts and WSR promising a bit of a knees up on the Saturday night. A weekend of camping with some of my BBR crew sounded fun - I thought it would help pull me out of the hole - and Julius wanted to do the Frolic, The Frolic is a WSR classic. A 12 hour “do-as-may-laps-as-you-can” type affair. You can do it solo or you can do it in teams and it’s a pretty nice day out. Christ knows why Julius would want to run for 12 hours after the hell of Devon C2C the week before. He said he just wanted to ‘do marathon distance’ - but more on that later.
We got there on Friday night and set up the tent, had a few beers and had a chat with the lovely WSR race crew. It was beautiful weather and the campsite was amazing - massive, green and full of really handy taps. I LOVE TAPS. Toilet situation ace. Hot shower situation ace. Everything was ace. The Frolic was on the Saturday and the marathon Sunday - I was on doggo and kid (Kidoggo) duty on Saturday. Oh and I was supposed to be supporting Julius too, but we all know I am shit at that. Julius just needed to do 7 laps for the marathon, and then we could have a nice relaxing afternoon. Spoiler - that’s not what happened.
To cut a long story short, Frolic day was BOLIING, but despite that, Julius managed to do 55 miles in 12 hours. Mental. He came in second male and bounded across the finish line looking like he’d just done a parkrun. I don’t understand him. Man’s a monster. A really positive, annoying monster. I spent the day looking after dogs and kids, but felt myself getting MASSIVE FOMO. It was a weird feeling. I actually wanted to run. I wanted to get my kit on and get out there. So I did. I shared a couple of laps with Susi and Julius and then decided to tap out, mainly because of Kidoggo duties, partially because I felt it a bit in my legs - all 7 miles of it. But it was amazing to feel like I wanted to run again.
What was also amazing was the love and support from the White Star regulars runners and newbies. I felt comfortable and at home again. I didn’t feel out of place or like I wasn’t good enough to be there. I just felt happy. It was awesome. Waiting around for 12 hours for a bloke to come past every hour so you could throw a packet of crisps at him would be pretty boring if there weren’t lovely people to talk to. The atmosphere at these events is amazing. It’s infectious.
Sunday morning came and it was my go. ME ME ME. LOOK AT ME! Julius was manning the aid station on the marathon and on Kidoggo duties, and I was running alone. The marathon had been routed and re-routed about 30 times mainly due to the fact farmers like to make last minute decisions about sowing fields and where they put their sheep. Poor Andy (the RD) would have been tearing his hair out, if he had any.
There was quite a big field of runners, and I felt very comfortable at the start. One part of my brain was saying ‘just take it easy, it’s a recovery run’. The other side was saying ‘go and smash the shit out of it’. I decided to take it easy and see what the route was like. It’s 2 loops of a 13 mile ish course, so If I felt good I could go harder on the second lap.
The route ran out of the farm and onto the same hilly trail course as the Frolic the day before. It then went further out into wonderful Dorsetshire taking in the two biggest hills in Dorset. No shit. It runs up and over Lewesdon Hill (915 ft) and Pilsdon Pen (909 ft). And it’s 2 laps. Nice and hilly times two! The thing is, after last week, these weren’t really hills were they? (Yes, yes they were). In addition there are loads of lovely little slow burn slopes - the whole thing feels like it’s up hill. The downs are vertical steep, so pretty hard to run down. Throw into he mix some angry farmers removing signs so you manage to go off course at least twice and you have the recipe for a White Star race!
I started towards the middle of the runners, taking it easy and having a chat with people. The first few miles felt like a slog - but that’s always the case on tired legs. Because I was on my my own, I could run at a pace I felt was comfortable for me, walk up the hills, sing songs about cows. There was no pressure on me. I could just be me. Sitting with myself. And I totally loved it.
I haven’t run alone for a long time. I usually have a friend or Julius (not my friend) with me. I think this is where I have been going wrong for the past few months. It’s pretty obvious o me now that I need some Bailey time every now and again. I felt happy and strong alone. I had no physical issues other than a fatigue I could feel in my legs. I was wearing a belt with caramel bars, crisps and caffeine bullets in it, and made sure I ate every 5 miles. The course was beautiful - that’s the thing about hills - you get the views. There were cows and horses and sheep and lambs. There were fields full of buttercups, woods and beautiful country roads. There were the massive hills and vertical descents. I did meet a lot of lovely people on the course, I chatted with them and I ran with a few people for a good few miles, but ultimately I was doing my own thing. And it was working. My pace was good and getting better. I felt happy and strong. And I was getting better and stronger every mile. I was back in my happy place. I had found my running joy again. I wasn’t thinking about anything at all other than what a good time I was having.
I had been missing this. Running is a totally personal thing. It’s you really being you. It’s not worrying about anyone else. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else, people or dogs. I could speed up or slow down. I could eat when I wanted, I could run as fast or as slow as I liked. I only had me to answer to. But best of all, I felt strong because there was nobody with me to compare myself too. I felt like I had done enough of these hills in the last few weeks to be able to easily do the ones in front of me. It was great. Even heffing my way up them made me happy, because I could do it faster than the people I was over taking without much effort. This makes me sound like an arsehole, but the feelings from the week before still loomed large - feelings of failure and being a bit pathetic. This experience was turning that on it’s head.
The first lap went by pretty fast. The aid station was in a pub car park and we all had beer tokens for a half pint, but I decided against the beer because I felt like I was doing quite well, and wanted to see how fast I could do the second lap. I’d save the beers for after, and come back to help on the aid station. Julius looked a bit frazzled manning it on his own. It was glorious though. Gerkins for the win. The end of the first lap came down through wheat fields - my favourite thing to run through - and it was then that I started picking off people.
Now you all know my feelings about putting pressure on yourself, competition and all that bollocks ruining a race blah blah blah. But when you aren’t out to win it or podium from the off, and you start over-taking people in the second half - that feeling IS amazing. I was in my happy place. Out in the countryside with a load of wonderful people, some amazing support and doing something I loved. I honestly never thought I would feel like that about running again.
As the second lap went on, I felt like I was going from strength to strength. I wasn’t breaking any records, but I was overtaking people, men and women, easily and joyfully. It was a massive confidence boost for me. I kept seeing people on the horizon and taking them out. My pace for the long ultras is so much slower that running a 9.30 min mile feels like flying. So flying I was. In my head. As the last few miles loomed I properly gunned it, for no other reason than I felt I could. My fastest mile was my last, as I desperately tried to take out the two ladies in front of me, but took a wrong turn - DOH. BUT I still came in for 28 miles and 5,055 ft elevation at 5 hours 35 mins. 6th female and 2nd in age category - 29th overall out of a field of 140.
But more than that I had kicked my running demon in the face. I was good enough to do this. I was good enough for me. I had spent a weekend with the most wonderful people. White Star Running are like a family. If in doubt, go hang out. They make everyone so welcome and they support every single person in the same way. Whether you are a super fast marathon guy or doing your first 10km, they are there for you. That night they threw a big old barn dance celebration and much booze was had. We celebrated each and every persons achievement that day - whether it was a full (ultra) marathon, a half or just a lap of the frolic, all were welcome and all were celebrated. That is what running is about.
To top it off, the following morning it was the Chaos race - a 4km lap for kids (and their parents) to take on. There are no times, there are no winners, there is just joy and medals for everyone. Watching the kids run with their parents and friends was so amazing and uplifting. Once again, I saw that running could be fun. It should ignite and invigorate you, like it does the kids.
So yeah. Well done White Star. My new favourite race of theirs. I fully recommend going to their site and booking yourself in for one of their weekends. You will leave with a massive smile on your face, some beer and biscuits, an AMAZING medal and maybe an ultra under your belt. Andy and co - this was the race the reset me, and for that I am truly grateful. High thanks to all the marshals and admin staff for looking after us.
Next up…….pacing a pal round SDW100 and running a marathon in a fucking prison. 72 laps of it. You can find out more about this race by visiting the Sussex Trail Events website!