The Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series Ultra took place on 8th December and I have been putting off my write up of this event ever since.
Partially, this is because I was disappointed with my race here and secondly because I didn’t want to write something I would regret in terms of negativity, because the day wasn’t as good as I had hoped for a number of reasons.
Following registration just after 7am I went back to my car for half an hour before the start to try and keep warm. It was a freezing cold morning but fortunately, considering it was December, the weather was as perfect as it could have been. Not a cloud in the sky, but temperatures barely rose above 2 degrees all day. I would always rather race in cold and dry conditions than wet and mild on a course like that though.
The CTS course is just over 33 miles along Dorset’s famous Jurassic coast. As the website stated the geographical history of the area is reflected in the hills that peak and trough along the cliff path. The start involved a steep ascent west with the sea quickly falling away to our left as we climbed around 400 feet in nearly as many metres. By the time the hill was crested at the top, all runners bar the elite at the front were walking. I hadn’t appreciated at this point that this would form the theme for the day. We quickly dropped down the other side and then immediately faced another huge hill that forced all to hike from the very bottom- it was simply un-runable.
Despite the agonisingly slow pace, the scenery was stunning and I was warming up fast. It only took fifteen minutes or so before I had stripped the hat and gloves off and packed these into my TNF flight series pack. I had decided following the North Downs Way 50 to buy a new pack and this was certainly a great investment. I am not a fan of the heavy bladder packs and this allowed me to carry two 0.5l bottles on the outsides as well as another in my hand. It meant I had a lot more room for supplies such as gels, bars and the mandatory kit required. Despite the cold I was sweating quickly so was glad I had plenty of fluid with me.
After around 5k the race calmed down in terms of terrain and I could slowly build up some consistency. I managed to pass a few other runners and felt fine at this stage as we finished this first 10k loop that took us back to the start and back out to the east. The ultra and marathon races went off early with the half marathon and 10k versions scheduled an hour to two hours after our start, so by the time we got back from loop one, the car park was filling up and the atmosphere was great as these runners wished us luck whilst on their way to register.
The second part of the race took us a further 11 or so miles east and these were the hardest parts of the course. The hills were so steep that you had to hike them, often using hands as well as feet to pull yourself to the top. Several runners commented that this was not fun and they wanted to be able to run, not walk the race. I was in two minds about this. I had chosen this race as it was fabled to be the toughest marathon in the UK and whilst a 33 mile ultra is relatively short compared to 50 and 100 milers, the course was advertised as a five out of five in terms of severity. So I knew it would be a tough day, but I did agree with some of the comments when a hill was crested and instead of a downhill where you can make up the lost time from the ascent, you were faced with thick steps you had to descend- again at a fast walking pace. Not only did this fry the quads, but meant you couldn’t develop any running consistency at all.
On the areas that were runable, there was such thick mud that even with heavily treaded shoes (I chose my most heavily treaded shoes- Mizuno Wave Ascend) I found myself slipping and sliding a lot. It may sound like I was having a miserable time, but I was actually enjoying it and the terrain was so technical that I had to concentrate and the hours slipped by very fast.
At mile 18 the terrain moved inland and this was the most enjoyable part of the run as we ran through fields and footpaths away from the cliffs. I picked up the pace here but also noticed I was starting to develop chafing on my thighs as my legs has swelled from all the climbing and descending. Stupidly I had packed no Vaseline in my pack as I felt wearing running tights I wouldn’t need any. It was the chafing more than any other type of pain that caused me to slow and this really pissed me off as I could have controlled this so much better and run a better race.
The final four miles took us back to the cliff path and we ran the hills we had run on the way out of the second leg. Psychologically this was hard as I knew what was coming, in reverse. Eventually the last one was behind me and I could painfully run back towards Lulworth Cove which was right below the path for the last mile. I knew this would signal the end of the marathon route and I would then need to repeat loop one to complete that 10k again in order to finish the 33.3 mile Ultra.
As I came back down the path into the village I had psyched myself up for this, even though my thighs were in agony from the chafing. I did have it in the back of my mind that I had been out for six and a half hours and light would fade soon- headtorches were not mandatory kit, but I knew that even in my state I could get through the 10k in an hour and a half (more than double what a 10k takes me on the road), so had time in the bank.
As I got to the start/ finish line a marshal directed me towards the finishers tent where I told him I was doing the Ultra, not Marathon so I needed to head back out; “Sorry, mate, you’ve missed the cut off for the Ultra so you need to finish here”.
What? There had been no mention of cut offs in the literature, race briefing nor on the course itself at any of the three aid stations. There was at least two hours of daylight left and I could walk 10k in that time. I am not one to kick up a fuss or get angry but I was really annoyed by this. I had been in pain for some time and psyching myself up for that last 10k loop. Furthermore, I had also run conservatively enough to know I had enough juice in the tank for the last loop. Had I known there was a cut off I would have run a lot harder (I only missed it by 15 minutes or so I gather).
So, my disappointment started there. It was not a good way to end but when the adrenaline died down I realised I was happy to be done, but not in the way it finished. I have never dropped from any type of race to date and I felt like I had failed. I met up with Gemma Bragg at the finish who I have become friends with through Jez and she too had stopped after the marathon (which she had measured to over 30 miles, not 26.2). She was the fourth woman and we both noted how hard that course was. I think it was actually a harder race than the North Downs Way 50 despite being 20 miles less.
OK, so this is the bit I have wanted to hone rather than write hastily after the race. The truth of the matter is, I was disappointed with Endurancelife and will not be doing another of their races any time soon. This was only my second Ultra so I can only compare it to the Centurion Running organisation. The North Downs Way 50 was £50 and the CTS was £54 to enter. At Centurion, you received seven fully stocked aid stations, an event specific t-shirt and a really nice medal as well as a lot of marshalling and just overall great organisation. Their race brief was clear and the website as detailed as you could get in terms of aid station cut offs.
For the same fee with Endurancelife there were only three aid stations which only had water and some jelly beans, you received a dog chain instead of a medal (my wife jokingly asked if I had actually finished or if this was the consolation prize…) and an unbranded t-shirt.
I have no problem with running a self supported race, but that should be reflected in the entry fee. I have entered two races so far in 2013, The North Downs Way 50 (again) in May and the 100 mile version in August, as my first 100 miler. I can’t recommend them enough, but sadly the same cant be said for Endurancelife. What I can say, is they set up an epic challenge on a brutal course and that is what I will remember most fondly. I don’t do these races for the goodies, but how they make me feel (but a fair fee is a fair fee).