A race that changed my approach..

As we launched our new challenge The Two’r or Twoer it seemed only appropriate to look back at the race that started my love affair with the South West Coast Path. This was my race report from 2015 when I first attempted the race.

The Oner

I am writing this a week after the event and I am still not fully recovered from two torn calf’s minor ligament damage in my left knee and some severe ITB issues. This race was like the reverse of Forest Gump, being able to run for long distances to feeling like I have braces attached to my legs. Would I do the race again!? Only time will tell..

When I first started doing the races I had completed I put everything I could on the line during the races and got to the finish line exhausted and in pain. But this pain would disappear over the course of the day and I would be left feeling good that I had accomplished something but a little empty as I wanted to take my body beyond what is comfortable and really feel I achieved a monumental task. I had watched footage of ironman athletes on empty crawling across the line with nothing left and ultra marathon runners on the boarder of death. In a completely non sadistic kind of way I wanted to experience this. Searching for this moment in a race was almost like some kind of spiritual pilgrimage hoping there would be a moment when you come to spiritual enlightenment and everything becomes clear and you know you have found this point. Having done recci’s of the The Oner course I knew this moment would happen but I wasn’t too sure where and when this would happen. This filled me with a healthy mix of excitement and fear.

Let me introduce you to The Oner:

82 Miles of coastal path running from Charmouth to Studland with over 10,000ft of elevation with a strict 24 hour time limit.

Now that sounds simple enough just run at a pace of roughly 4 mph for 24 hours and you will make the finish. But then there is the slight task of the hills and we will get onto that later. So my task for the day was to just keep trucking staying ahead of the cut off and make it back in the 24 hour time limit.

So here we go…

I had cheekily managed to persuade my mum and dad to come down from Shetland and get a flat out so we have some family time and use flat as a base for them to hangout when supporting me along the route. So we all arrived in Weymouth on the Friday and settled in for the night of carb loading. A nice surprise was to see my brother and his girlfriend that night for more support. I never had a doubt through my whole training that I wouldn’t finish the race but began to feel a real pressure that my family had made such a huge effort to come down and support me. It was a strange feeling having a Guinness that night, not much was said between us and it almost felt like I was heading into battle to never be seen again. A final kit check and burritos made, friday night came and went and I woke up about 6am on Saturday after very little sleep but felt fresh and ready to go.

We all made our way down to the Ferrybridge Inn with enough kit to probably start a small jumble sale. I was feeling a lot more relaxed about kit check as i pretty much had double of everything just incase something wasn’t up to standard. The kit check was thorough which filled me with confidence in a strange way as they obviously knew this race was going to be tough and wanted to get everything right. Issued with a tracker so family and friends could follow your progress, glow sticks, dibblers, maps and number. I signed my life away on the disclaimer which I didn’t read because I didn’t want to let the fear set in that its possible to die out there, a small slip on the wet rocks or a wrong turn and you will be off the edge and probably dead.

It didn’t make a difference by not reading it as the medic took the mic during the briefing and stated the obvious dangers which made it even more real coming from a man in uniform. So now fully shitting myself I had 2 hours to kill before the start. Thoughts were racing through my head and just wanted to get started. We left Ferrybridge for Charmouth and the atmosphere in the mini bus was lots of nervous chat and laughs for the first 20 mins then as the mini bus began to struggle up hills around Abbotsbury and the sight of the coast came into view conversation stopped, all you could hear was GPS watches starting up, food being scoffed and the relief of a safe fart. As we arrived at the start I tried not to feel intimidated by people wearing their MDS tops, various other 100 mile ultra tops and people with expensive compression wear that I couldn’t afford. I went pretty old school with shorts, socks and t shirts combo. I had my trusted Saucony Peregrines and my salomon Agile 12 stuffed with 3 litre of water (which decided to leak when laid down) 1 litre of Science Fitness that will be supplying their awesome energy juice on the course. I also had all necessary kits along with the contents on a small newsagents.

I am not from this area so names of places are not my strong point but I knew it was a bloody long way. As we set off at mid day we just headed south to the SW coastal path then East. I ran with Jon Regler for a good 14 miles stopping off at checkpoint 1 and 2 together enjoying the food and juice which was on supply. As we hit check point 2 he said that our pace was good enough for a 3 ? hour marathon. This was a little bit of a shock as we were aiming for a 5 hour marathon for the first leg and I think this made my guts tumble all I can say is that im sorry for who went in there after me. Up and down all those hills I felt good, my knee was attempting to spoil the day but it wasn’t going to stop me. The terrain was forever changing from coastal path to road to PEBBLE BEACHES. Sapping energy from the legs these beaches were killing me.

I forgot to mention the weather.. It was forecast for sun, sun and more sun and it delivered. A beautiful 20+ degree day with a slight breeze it was glorious running weather. After about 15 miles I felt so comfortable I was on my own with a few people ahead I was topless shorts rolled up and loving life. Embracing the day and feeling like I looked like Anton Krupicka I slowly began picking people off and was telling myself that 7 ? m/mi were not good for endurance events but I was feeling fresh and listened to the body. Checkpoint 3 came and went, I was aiming to be at checkpoint 4 at 5pm but arrived their at 4pm first marathon done and back at HQ. There was certain people I kept overtaking then getting over taken by and I ended up striking up conversation with one guy called Paul Beechey we ended up spending the next 50 miles together. After checkpoint 4 at HQ you head out towards Portland Head along a pretty depressing stretch of road I caught my family and a very good friend who would joined me during the night. Leaving Paul to truck on I stopped for a brief interview, put in a request for some Imodium and some more painkillers for the night and headed off again aiming to be back down to HQ for a big break before the night section.

The first section of Portland head is up, up and up then once your on the top its pretty flat for the first half but due to its open landscape you had to deal with the wind. Driving winds from the coast made this relatively easy section hard going. The lighthouse was checkpoint 5. Mum and dad and best mate Jake were there again at the checkpoint I hit a few Imodium and took some ibuprofen to combat any little niggles. Paul and I were now back together and having run this section at dark I could remember rough directions and knew it was pretty technical section. We was running with another runner who was pretty strong and was pushing the pace. After a nice scenic trip round Portland and its beautiful prisons it was a relief to be coming back down. This was the only point where you would double back on your route and you would see other runners starting Portland. You wished them good luck and tried to hide the pain you were feeling, I was looking forward to getting back to HQ checkpoint 6 and having a good break. The support I had was beyond epic, I was greeted by more support at the bottom of Portland head. A brief stop to say hello and I was off on the short run back to HQ and checkpoint 6.

My spirits were lifted as I got back to HQ about 7:15pm. Having worked out the times in which I would have to leave checkpoints to be one schedule I knew I could have a good 45 min break to get some food, drink, change of clothes and re evaluate how this race was going to change my life. Checkpoint 6 is the mark of halfway and was stocked full of treats. It was a very warm welcome back here and I smashed about 6 bowls of pasta, couple of sandwiches, a few sausage rolls, 3 bananas, 2 chocolate bars and a handful of sweets. They say never try anything different on race day but I had never run 80 miles so everything was different. I had a really good stretch, warmed up in the car doused my legs in Better_you magnesium spray and felt good and ready to head off.

The race was going really well apart from an upset stomach, legs were feeling good, I was feeling positive because of the support, the weather was great and was meant to be good during the night and I was half way through. All was good, I collected my cheat sticks which I purchased after the previous recci with the boys and went to go and test my head torch before setting off and NOTHING! Changed batteries, blew into it, taped it, punched it not even a flicker. Luckily I had my brother who was driving round to each checkpoint, I had a spare at the house which he would later drop off to me on the course.

After about 45 mins of a break Paul and I headed off and the night slowly started to draw in. We both kept being polite and telling each other to run on if we felt stronger, but we both just kept chatting and adopting the walk run attitude. We made our way into Weymouth collected my head torch and resisted the temptation to drop into the pubs and the house for a drink. As we headed along the esplanade you could just make out the end of coastline of where we were heading. Just before we headed onto the coastal path I said to Paul that I was happy to stick with him through the night as I could sense the atmosphere getting a little more serious as the light dropped along with the temp. We both agreed that we would be running partners for the night.

We had a final stop at the fantasy island fun park before hitting the coast to get our lights on. I turned my lights on and was like a Christmas tree with flashing lights, reflective strips and glow sticks. I turned on my replacement head torch and it was about as useful as a one legged man in an arse kicking contest. Then Paul said that his was brand new and he hadn’t tested his. I was fearing the worse that we would be running through the night lit by my sorry excuse of a head torch.

As Paul unpacked a mini generator he explained It had been flown in from Germany for the race, and with great german efficiency and engineering this thing made the lighthouse beam look dull. It pretty much lit up the whole Weymouth, I felt my retinas bleed as he turned around to talk to me. I said to him that he has no choice but to stay with me through the night as it would be a certainty I would end up off the side of a cliff with my head torch.

So off we headed on the coastal path again adopting the run walk combo which was mainly walking now as we adjusted to the dark and the different conditions. I remembered from the recci there was a few hidden turns on route that we needed to look out for and we navigated these with minor difficulty. The conditions under foot were very nice and mood in camp was good. We made it to checkpoint 7 at Ossmington mills with no real problems and was starting to appreciate how far we had gone and that we were now on the home stretch (if you can call 35 miles that). We did some maths and realised we could walk the rest and still finish in a good time. Psychologically this was good to know as we both knew there was some severe climbs to come. Taking the race checkpoint by checkpoint was working out well but 6-8 miles at the beginning didn’t seem far but now it was taking us a good 2-3 hours between each checkpoint as the body started to cease up and the fear of making a wrong turn crept into our minds.

As we headed on through the night we had now been running for about 14 hours and I was about to head into the unknown as the furthest I had ever run was 46 miles. It was almost as if my body knew and as we hit about 50 miles I started to feel really sick and my guts were in turmoil. It was great to have someone like Paul with me as he asked all the right questions, just to reassure me that I wasn’t going to die. Im quite in tune with my body mentally and physically and knew something had to come out. Lets just say a strong root and a cliff edge made a perfect and scenic relief spot. Standard me and my epic timing as we got passed by 2 other runners Paul taking the full flack of their disgusted looks as I was hidden in the bush with my useless head torch.

The run continued and the route started to deliver the hills. Running at night psychologically it’s a little better with hills because you cant see the top, but when you see a head torch bobing around in the dark really high up in front of you it makes your heart sink. Pain ensued as we took on the climbs at Durdle door and Lulworth cove. I decided to swear prefusly as we got to the top of each climb just releasing a bit of pain. The down hills were torture for us both. I tried every method to get down without using my legs. I wish I had bloody hidden a sledge on route to get me down those hills.

We were both in good spirits trying not to let the dark demons in, there was plenty of times where we were laughing and joking but we had to stop ourselves laughing at times as it hurt to laugh and descend at the same time. Support was still pouring in for me and I think Paul was enjoying the support I had as well, a very good friend joined us a Lulworth Cove to see us through the night. We began spending a little longer at checkpoints but it was good to have some fresh conversation as the ‘getting to know you’ conversations with Paul were starting to run thin as we both tried to block out the pain.

After we left Lulworth around midnight we were all in good spirits. Just one more marathon to go and we would be there. Instead of working checkpoint to checkpoint we were now taking it hill by hill as we both knew what was on offer on the final section. Both myself and Paul were struggling with independent issues and the hills were really taking its toll on us. We both tried breaking into a jog on the flats but as soon as any incline was introduced we both ground to a walk again. The Race had now turned into body management, we took a few wrong turns as tiredness crept in. A few narrow misses as we avoided getting blown up as we made our way through the firing ranges. The terrain as I had remembered was so unforgiving, skidding and slipping down hills was now not much fun as both of us winced in agony. Progression was slow even with my friend trying to jolly us on.

I cant remember too much of the early morning. But I do remember distances almost tripling in distance from my memory of the recci and what was going on. We had been overtaken by a few people coming into checkpoint 9 and they were looking strong, I wasn’t particularly bothered anymore about my position as I just wanted to finish. Myself and Paul started going into a dark space and I said to him earlier I had a great story which would pull anyone out from this mood. I asked him if he was ready for it and he was… What ensued was a good fun section of story telling and laughs. Moral was lifted and we bobbed on to checkpoint 9.

As I didn’t really know the names of the climbs or sections after checkpoint 9 I vaguely remember saying to boys theres only 3 big climbs left.. They were known as stairs up to most ridiculous building move. The zig zag climb and those FUC*%NG stairs. These were now our goals get these out the way and technically we were home and dry. So we continued on after warming up in the van and eating so many sandwiches.

I want to take this point to thank the spirit and dedication of the checkpoint staff. Even into the early hours of the morning they were still really chipper and keen to help out as much as possible. I have a load of respect for the staff in these 24 hour events. If I done end up running next year I will defiantly volunteer to help out.

In semi high spirits we headed on taking in the first of the three climbs straight after checkpoint 9 as we made our way back into the darkness I stopped the boys and made them turn their head torches off and took a moment to enjoy the stars. It was such a beautiful moment and quite comical as the stars cast more light than my head torch. Running now was some what of a discomfort and progress was slow but we cracked on we eventually made it to the zig zag climb just before the dreaded steps. A strategically placed checkpoint 10 was placed at the top of the stairs which really gave you drive to get those stairs behind you. Going down was more painful than the up and plenty of swear words were used by me. We joked about counting the stairs but decided to take them on in two sections. The steps didn’t stand a chance we smashed our way up them with the thought of a coffee, food and the last big climb out the way.

Our next bonus was the thought of the sun coming up and this was a welcome relief as we made our way along the coast towards Swanage. Taking a moment to look back and see what we accomplished thoughts began to sneak in of the finish line. Myself and Paul had both done a recci of this section but only up till Swanage so we didn’t know what Studland had to offer. The terrain was pretty flat compared to what we had done from Lulworth as we entered checkpoint 11 again my family was their but they didn’t get much fun from me as my body was now in self destruct mode and I was in a a lot of pain. My brother again putting in the hours slept at the checkpoint so he didn’t miss us. My mate Jake I think was relieved to be released at this point as I wasn’t much fun and my answers had dropped to yes and no. That point I spoke about earlier of being in a state of pure exhaustion I think I had found it.. My usual chatty self had gone, my sense of humour was non existent, I adopted the role of kevin and perry as my parents asked if I was ok as I saw them.

Now all we had left was 7 miles along Swanage seafront up and over Studland and then along Studland beach and we would be finished. Paul created a 12th checkpoint by calling his wife and getting a coffee made for us as we passed his house. Up and over Studland then down onto the beach we both attempted a jog but there wasn’t much left so we power walked the whole beach. The sand was compact so it was not too hard. We were both hurting but spirits were good as Paul went off in front to meet his family. Over a little bridge and the finish line was there. 21 hr 22mins.

I was greeted with a round of applause, a medal and a cup of soup. These kind of races have such a great atmosphere and such a big team effort although it is an individual effort. The race was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life and a lot of people who took part rated it one of the hardest races they have done. The organisation was amazing, the atmosphere was great, the checkpoints were always readily stocked, the staff were positive, just a great event. Having the ability to track the runners makes it such a great spectator sport allowing supporters to follow.

I would like to thank all the support I had, with them making it to each checkpoint really spurred you on and knowing there will be someone you know and love to be there for you if you need them. I would like to thank Paul Beechey as well for his wise head who helped me through the night and thanks to his head torch. A big thanks to all the staff and especially Claire for allowing me to blog for the race. Thanks toScience Fitness for their juice, a great tasting product that come straight from way down deep in the congo.

Strava The Oner 2015

So a week on from the race and I am still hobbling around with my ruined calfs but I loved pretty much everything about the race.

Recovery has been slow due to severe muscle damage but Better_you magnesium spray and Magnesium flakes aided in recovery. A really great company which is backing me.

I would highly recommend Iain Andrews Sports and Remedial Massage, Based in Weymouth and available for home visits. 45 minutes of pain but bloody worth it. A lovely guy who knew his stuff and got me back up on my feet. Mob: 07831 710662 Email: massage.iainandrews@gmail.com

“Do you have the talent? Is rarely the question. Do you have the guts to finish? Is the real question” Orrin Woodward

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