Updated: Apr 18, 2022
This is a guest post courtesy of Alice.
‘Every year we get people who turn up to these events who’ve run along Embankment and think that’s training.’
Excellent. Just what I wanted to hear as I was taxied from Weymouth train station across to event HQ based on Portland bill at 10pm the night before starting my first ever multi-day trail running event. I had arrived to register for the 3 day Jurassic Coast Challenge (JCC), run by the events company Votwo, which consists of 3 trail marathons over 3 days along the south west coast of England.
For a couple of years, I have been regularly running up and down the Thames path; signing up to numerous half marathons and marathons; and for the last year joining the fantastic London City runners on Thursdays and Sundays. London is great for running with its large parks, the Thames path, and numerous canals which are always lit, meaning you could run 24/7 if you wanted to.
On a London City Runners trip to Portugal last year, organised by the amazing Running Adventures, I had my eyes opened to the joys of trail running. So, me being me, I decided I must sign up to a trail run – a multi-day event sounded fantastic and like an opportunity I couldn’t miss!
I asked my running and triathlon friends, but no one else seemed to want to join. Undeterred, I signed up anyway and booked into the accommodation arranged by Votwo. That was in early December. I had nearly 4 months to prepare myself, or as it turns out, live in denial and forget about it.
Two weeks out from the event, a list was sent around reminding us of the kit that must be carried each day. Luckily, I had most of it but a few pleas and some extremely generous friends meant I was able to get everything ticked off without too much of a financial outlay. On initial reading, the lists can seem OTT (e.g. a compass!?) – but, it’s all there for your safety, so it’s important to comply!
Panic over, my kit was sorted and I was injury free. A few more runs around London, including the Big Half, and I felt ready to go.
The first day was 43km (a note longer than a marathon) around Portland Bill, through Weymouth, past Durdle Door and finishing in Lulworth cove. Each morning we had a briefing where we were talked through the route for the day; where our check points would be; and if there was anything of note to look out for. Designed to reassure you, on day 1 I was instead utterly freaked out! There I was in my pristine road running shoes and looking around a room of walkers and runners armed with poles, well-worn trail shoes and a general look of experience. Then came the announcement ‘This is a self-navigation event’ – oh, so perhaps that’s what the compass is for?! Luckily the route followed the ‘Coast path’ with an acorn sign, and so although self-navigation, most of the way there was clear signposting.
We were all bundled into a mini-bus and taken to the day’s start point where you can chat to fellow runners before jumping out and setting off. The first 2 km was on a footpath, brilliant, asphalt underfoot and I felt at home. Maybe this was all going to be fine after all. I soon learnt the reason for the word ‘Challenge’ as I was met with a 100m elevation, off-road climb to the top of Portland bill and my heart rate was shooting through the roof and my calves were screaming.
To avoid boring you all with a km by km breakdown, the key stats of Day 1 were: over 1100m elevation gain and 1000m elevation loss, 43.5km route and 5hrs 15m on my feet. Highlights included food at checkpoints (giving up chocolate for lent went out the window), chatting to other runners and the views along the coast.
I rolled out of bed at 6am and waited for the inevitable aches…they didn’t come. A pleasant surprise, but I had paced myself on Day 1 knowing I needed the legs to carry me for two more days. The same routine as Day 1 followed with a morning briefing and shuttle to the start. Today’s route took us from Charmouth through to Weymouth and I was warned there was ‘a bit more off-road’.
The day started out with pretty much all of the 1100m elevation gain and loss for the day, but then at least you knew the route would flatten out. Except a flat route isn’t always a nice route…things I can now confidently say, I do not like running on single beaches (for 3km), I do not like running through bog and I do not like paths overgrown with thorn-covered vegetation!
Key stats for the day: over 1100m elevation gain and 1100m elevation loss, 45.7km route and 5hrs 50m on my feet. Highlights were: views from the top of ‘Golden cap’, cheese and pickle sandwich at check point 2, fossil hunting, coming in to HQ first (later starters were faster) and managing to pull out my last two km at 5:10 pace – which I did not expect after 86km of running in two days!
Unfortunately the run was starting to take its toll. Being the first one back to HQ meant the physio had a good look at me limping around and started asking questions… It was becoming apparent that training on very flat routes around London had not prepared my knees for the strain of the hills and my left knee was all but broken. Swelling had set in, it was painful to touch and bending was not an option. I had a 40min sports massage on my left leg in an attempt to loosen it and hope that it would reduce the strain in my knee. An evening of icing and stretching lay ahead! I also went online and ordered a foam roller to be delivered home – apparently something all runners have!?
Finally, this was it! I woke up a 6am elated that I had just one more run to do and the challenge was complete. Then I tried to move…overnight my knee had stiffened badly and any outline of a kneecap was lost to severe swelling. Against all advice I decided I was going to run, so I got some ice on it, loosened up with some stretching and knocked back a ridiculous number of pain killers. I just had to get through today and then it’d be done!
The final day’s route on paper was like the crowning glory of hell. We were starting in Lulworth cove and then with nearly 1300m of elevation gain we were to head along the coast 45km to Poole Harbour. However, a route on paper is very different to the experience. The sun was shining and the views were clear to the horizon. The blue sea glistened and the white cliffs shone; it was truly beautiful.
My knee held out and I was extremely cautious with downhill sections, but something within me kept me going. The pain was at times unbearable, however, I soon realised it was worse to stop and have to get going again than to just keep plodding.
I became a self-titled Votwo JCC ambassador along the way, stopping to talk to everyone who was asking about ‘who the runners were’ and they were so encouraging as we neared the end of our challenge. I also ran through the film set for Kate Winslet’s film, the Mary Anning biopic, but I don’t think I’ll make the final cut!
Key stats for the day: over 1300m elevation gain and 1300m elevation loss, 45.4km route and 5hrs 35m on my feet. Highlights were the views along the entire route – everything looks better in the sunshine!
Finishing was almost a bit surreal. It was done. I’d run 3 trail marathons (and a bit) in 3 days. What next? I was one of the first runners in on the final day, so for two hours, I cheered in other runners as I took on fluids and food. I think seeing others finish the challenge and the relief mixed with elation on their faces really helped me appreciate what I’d achieved.
Although there were moments each day where I struggled, whether it was the terrain, the distance ahead or the next hill towering, I can genuinely say I loved every minute. Votwo has been running this event, and others, for years and you can tell from just how slick the organisation is. I never wanted for anything and every member of staff was friendly, encouraging and informative.
Following the event I put myself on a temporary running ban for a couple of weeks, hoping time would heal my knee. With just 3 weeks between this event and Brighton marathon, where I was hoping to secure a 2020 London Marathon entry through the Good for Age route, I needed rest!
Going forward I’ll certainly be more conscientious of strength and conditioning drills all runners should include in their programmes.
What next?! Anyone fancy joining me on another multi-day trail or ultra distance running event?!