Three go mad In Dorset

Oner 78.6miles 2010

This event started for me as a chance remark on the Ultra marathon thread on Fetcheveryone, I had no intention of doing it as I’d already booked up Glasgow to Edinburgh as my ultra for the month, however due to the flu I missed this race & so had decided not to do anything other than The Cotswolds Ultra on the 21st instead.
This all changed quite suddenly when the Oner thread opened with the stunning line of “Stupid”, followed by “Does a little Jig” then myself with “Mentalist”. A general chit-chat ensued with all the usual nonsense & then the killer post appeared.
“The history of this event goes some way to describing how hard the event is. In 2007, 20 runners started the course and only 5 finished. In 2008 the event had to be pulled at the first check point as the weather had deteriorated to the point where preventing loss of life became a priority. The 50 or so runners were taken to a shelter point until 5am when they started a short version of the course (50 miles!). Only 18 made it to the end. If you want a real ‘life’ challenge do this race. If you want a easy life, don’t”
Organised by Votwo the weekend is split into 2 different events, one is 3 very hard Marathons spread over 3 days (The JCC) or you could choose the Oner & do all 3 non-stop in 24hrs.
Well that was that really, those of you who know me, know that I cannot resist a challenge like that, so I signed up for the Oner the next day.
That was it then; at 6pm on Saturday the 27th of March we were standing in a field near Charmouth in Dorset about to retrace the route that several hundred marathon runners had taken 2 days previously doing the JCC. A quick group photo followed & then with the casualness I love about Ultra marathon running the starter just shouted “GO” & that was it, we were off.
Having never done this distance before I didn’t really have a gameplan or tactics for this, but having my one & only DNF along this coastline I knew how tough it potentially was & that I was going to walk the hills & take it steady going down them. What I didn’t realise was how bad the mud was going to be! The first couple of miles were ok & I took it nice & steady, nobody seemed to be in too much of a hurry although a couple of folk just headed off into the distance at about twice my speed. After the first few miles the mud kicked in & that was that really, it all seemed to degenerate from there! I was having a particularly bad time of it as I just couldn’t seem to get my feet out of the mud & my headtorch was next to useless as it was just reflecting back from the water on the floor & so it seemed to make the mud look just like a pond. At the race briefing were told to try running without them as your night vision should be able to cope & so I turned it off. Worked great for about a mile or so until I was going down some wooden steps, didn’t see where they started & then twisted my ankle. I was in agony as it’s an old injury & so I knew that it could go 1 of 2 ways, if I took it easy for about 15 minutes & it didn’t swell up then I’d be ok, if it did swell up then that would be game over for me. Quickly popped about 4 ibuprofen (I know that’s too many but I was a worried man) & tried to slow my pace for a while. This was a bit harder than it seemed as I’d joined up with a group of runners & we seemed to be working well together in a team & I didn’t really want to lose that comfort zone as I was feeling quite low at that point. The pills worked in that they stopped the pain & I didn’t get any swelling but they never helped the mud. At this stage it was truly awful, we were less than 10 miles into a 78 mile race & all I could think about was binning it as I just couldn’t get any grip anywhere. I think I used & heard about every swear word going over the next couple of hours as we all struggled with the terrain.
All this time our group was getting smaller & smaller & I ended up running with James Adams & Mark Cockbain, 2 legends in the ultra running world & I felt quite honoured to be in their company. We stayed in our little group for the rest of the first Marathon & finished it in just over 6hrs. I managed to break out of my melancholy at this point and actually started to look forward to the next phase.
Off to Portland to run around the island. Glad to get out of the mud we set off at quite a good pace to try to make up a bit of time, we soon slowed down though as the fog was coming in as we were running around the cliff edge side of the Quarry. Only being inches away from a cliff edge in the fog really does sharpen all your senses & it did get a bit hair-raising at times. I slowed down to a walk at this point as there was more mud on the ground & I didn’t fancy taking a header into the sea.
We found checkpoint 5 fairly easy & we all took the time for a brew, nice warm sugary coffee to keep us awake was the order of the day, Mark was the first one to head out as he seemed to be anxious about the cut off times. We all followed him & by now our group numbered about 6, we pushed on quite hard made good time until we went passed the prison, somehow all of us missed the coastal path sign & we ended up on the road heading into the centre of the island, luckily we were caught up by a support crew member who told us of our error & we quickly back tracked. We made a couple more wrong turnings in Portland before we finally got ourselves back on track & headed in the right direction. Checkpoint 6 & some warm food, Pasta & another brew were in order, Mark was getting very concerned about the cut offs now but James & myself were a lot more relaxed about it & thought that we’d be fine. We flew out of the checkpoint & hammered through the town of Weymouth to try & make up any lot time, James at this moment made a comment about shorts & running tights which upset one of the other runners a little bit but hey ho, never mind. Through the town & helped by a local runner who did our guiding for us we got to witness the 4am kick out of the local clubs & kebab shops, ah teenagers, you’ve just got to love them.
Back on the coastal trail now & the sun was starting to come up, we all felt a lot happier now as we could start to see exactly where we were putting our feet. It’s amazing how little light you actually do need to see properly when you’ve been running in the dark for hours. We stopped for a few photos on the way to Lulworth Cove as the scenery was just fantastic, watching the sun rise along the coast seemed to make the nights efforts all worthwhile & although we still had about 30 miles to go I somehow seemed reassured that all would be well.
Lulworth Cove &the end of the 2nd Marathon, time taken so far was about 12.5hrs in pretty awful conditions & although this last section had the reputation of being the hardest I was feeling confident about getting to the end in plenty of time.
I soon found out that its reputation was in my opinion very understated. The hills were absolutely horrific, we were having to take rest breaks walking up them & at one point I was on my hands & knees just trying to climb up as my quads & calves were burning with the pain of working so hard. We really had a very hard time of this section & I took us 6hrs or so to do 13miles at one point we only managed half a mile in 30 minutes!! Tough goes nowhere near to describe it. We sat down at the top of one hill for a rest & actually had a discussion about whether or not we would be able to maintain our speed & do another 13 miles in the remaining 6hrs!! Blimey, there I was running with 2 blokes who have done the hardest races in the world & we’re actually talking about trying to cover 13 miles in 6hrs & not the normal 1.30 to 1.45 we would normally do it in.
We weren’t to worry though as we’d broken the back of the last leg & although it was still a bit hilly in places it wasn’t nowhere near as bad as the previous 65 miles had been. We upped our pace & cracked on hoping that no JCC runners would go past us, that wasn’t to be though as first one & then another & another went passed us, all of them were saying well done, congratulations telling us how brave/mad/mental we were, but it was nice to have the interaction & their comments were certainly helping me along as I was feeling very tired then.

Onto checkpoint 11 & James was starting to seriously lag behind because an idiot on a motorbike had made him fall over twisting his ankle, he told Mark & myself to go on & he’ll make it back to the finish on his own, but running 70 miles plus with someone doesn’t make you want to leave them & so we slowed down a bit & waited at the next checkpoint for him to catch us up. A couple of painkillers later & we were on our way again with a swift walk through a very slippy harbour & then some good old fashioned tarmac to run on. At every checkpoint I’d been asking how many in front? How many have dropped out? How many more miles to the next one etc etc. This helped me along just by trying to keep all the numbers in my head & giving me something to concentrate on when I wasn’t concentrating on not falling off the cliffs. I’d worked out that we were somewhere in the top 15 or so & when I saw 3 other Oners ahead of us just before we reached the beach, it got the competitiveness in me going & I told the other 2 that if we took these 3 we’d get a top ten finish, Mark & myself went for it straight away & ended up dragging James with us as he was still in loads of pain with his ankle. We overtook them fairly easily but I still wanted to beat them by more & so didn’t let the pace drop for ages, a quick walk followed & Mark was continuously glancing behind us to check that they weren’t catching us up, if they jogged then we ran & so it went on until we reached the beach. A quick check behind & they weren’t there so we walked for a couple of minutes to try & get some energy back. Onto the beach proper & we saw the 3 oners again, they’d cut through the side to get on the sands a bit quicker & so any distance advantage we’d had on them was now gone. I’d like to say that at this point we just carried on until the finish but we never, it was then eyeballs out time to try to get home in under 21hrs, we could see the marshal in the dunes & we were going great guns, James’s girlfriend Gemma was there taking photos of us as we ran in, we made it to the marshal in just over 21hrs, about 10 seconds over only for him to tell us that the finish was another ½ mile away!!!! Cue loads of swearing and gesticulating at that moment but Gemma reassured us that he was right & that it was no more than that little ½ mile left to run.

Here come the boys, with the crap weather on their tail.

Well, we ran it; all 3 of us grinning like Cheshire cats splashing through all of the puddles on that home straight towards the finish to finish in a time of 21hrs 7mins. A truly awesome feeling of achievement swept over me as I went over the line, this was the longest & hardest race I had ever done & I felt very proud of myself & of James & Mark for running this remarkable race.

I have a mantra by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I tell myself when things are getting a little tough & I certainly said it to myself more than once throughout the whole Oner experience

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

I certainly saw what was behind & in front of me & I managed to catch a glimpse of what is inside of me during those 21hrs out on that coast. Will I do it again? Maybe, but the ultra world is big & I want to see a lot more of it.


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