Sunday, 20 May 2012

Hard Way Round the Rock

 After scouting the internet for an off road race of about 10-13 miles, I came across a little event run by the Royal Manor of Portland Athletics Club: Hard Way Round the Rock. The name of the event gave me some indication of the severity but having never run around Portland or any of the surrounding coastal areas I didn't really know what to expect.

The race had a 5, 11 or 20 mile option, so I managed to convince - without too much difficulty - my sister, and my running buddy Ruth to come along, who were up for 5 and 20 miles respectively.

With us all completing different distances it made sense to prepare something of a picnic, it would be a travesty for someone to be waiting around for others to finish without plenty to eat. The picnic box started off fairly healthily with peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches, post race recovery shakes and a good selection of fruit, but quickly deteriorated as jaffa cakes, giant chocolate buttons and a small range of other treats snuck their way in!

We turned up early and were surprised to find the car park empty except for a random white van man with a black dog so big that it could have been mistaken for a bear, who was asking which way the sun came up.. I wanted to tell him that it was gone 9am and that it had been up for some time but a kindlier gentleman pointed Eastwards. I say the sun was up; in fact it was fairly overcast and looked like it was starting to rain.

Ruth soon arrived with a couple of other 20 mile runners and in typical girly fashion, we immediately began a passionate discussion about what we might wear, which the lady in the next car very quickly became involved in too. The wind was cold, the air was warmish, it might rain, the sun might come out, the hills would make us hot and the sea breeze would cool us down: so much to discuss. Don’t even get me started on the road shoes/trail shoes debate.

The race briefing began and the small, local-looking crowd gathered in to listen to what was quite frankly, the most thorough, detailed and complicated set of instructions I had ever experienced. I think I would have remembered more if I had been learning to fly a fighter jet. Through the “hole in the wall” (not a pub, restaurant or ATM, an actual gap in the wall), cross several roads, left, right, across, down a steep slope, across the beach minding out for the boat chains and ropes, something about a vertical climb(!).. it went on.. “So that’s your first 3 miles done..” I thought, if I make it around this course without getting lost, that will be a success.

The race began and the first mile led up through some roads and quickly turned into a super fast, downhill trail run. My fresh legs were joyously leaping over rocks and thrashing the descents. A sharp left led us to a bit of an uphill slog, but soon enough we were running down again, all the way to the sea front. Then it started to get tricky. A short, steep slog up a bank of chunky pebbles led us up to, well, more pebbles. It was pebbles all the way along the beach, and still in my ‘early in the race high’ I was trying to run as fast as I could whilst sliding all over the place. When you finally reach the end of the pebbles and are just about to jump for joy, you look up ahead to a path that appears to lead up a cliff. Brilliant. With the energy sapped from the legs from running across loose pebbles, the enormously steep ascent is even harder. I didn’t see anybody attempting to run it, everybody just had their heads down and were walking up as fast as they could. As you near the top, a breathless, sweaty mess, a bloke was hidden in a bush taking photos. I’m sure everybody will love those ones!

A quick water stop and then the fun really began. The route follows the coastal path around Portland and the views were absolutely stunning. The track was decent enough so long as you didn’t get too carried away looking out to sea and eventually led to the tip of the island and around the lighthouse. Once past an astonishing array of beach huts, the trail became quite technical and rocky. I felt like something between a small child running too fast for their little legs and a mountain goat, as one minute I managed to time the foot placement perfectly and enthusiastically bound over rocks then the next minute I was falling over my feet trying to turn a sharp corner without throwing myself into bush.

I was joined by Kevin – who was doing the 20 mile course – for the last few miles, and the company certainly helped take my mind off of how hard the route was. We walked the last long, rocky climb as quickly as we could and were greeted at the top by the some super friendly marshals with jelly babies, marvellous. We’d hit the first bit of proper tarmac that we’d seen in a while and managed to get some pace back in the legs. The route then split and Kevin went off to complete another lap. I knew I had less than a mile to go and it was all downhill. I ran as fast as I could, freshly fuelled on jelly babies and arrived at the finish line a very happy girl. The man then informed me that I was the first lady, which made me even happier!

A fantastically scenic and tough course run by a really friendly bunch of people. I will definitely be back for more!

Run data here, if anybody is interested!

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