Race review: White Star Running Dorset Invader Marathon

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At the crack of dawn on Friday morning, my running bud and I drove to Dorset to spend the next 36 hours camping and running.  Hooray!

I love White Star Running. This was my third event with them in 12 months, and I would do them all if we were a bit closer. They specialise in trail runs with a festival atmosphere – beer, cake, excellent medals and above all, friendly people. I never feel taken advantage of with their runs, everything’s fair and balanced. The photographs are taken by volunteers and are free. The goody bags are brilliant (more on that later) and I always have a stonkingly good time.

Here’s the course map on two pages (!)

Dorset Invader page 1 route

Dorset Invader page 2

We arrived at the campsite about 12.30 after a stop at Fleet Services where I had a yummy (albeit expensive) salad from here. Avocado, edamame, roasted red pepper, chicken breast and carrot on a kale and cos lettuce base. Yum.

After chucking the tents up we went to explore. There was a bar in a barn, a café and a wee farm shop with some slightly nervous but lovely people in charge. This was the inaugural event so the hosts didn’t really know what to expect.

We had a couple of hours before dinner was served at 6.30pm, so I had a bit of naptime and a bit of reading time, which was very refreshing. The tent was pretty empty without Mr Charming in it though, and I hadn’t even bothered with a roll mat, let alone an air bed, so it felt even bigger.

Dinner was a pre booked choice which catered for vegetarians as well, which was great. I had the pasta Bolognese which was exactly what you need before a big run – hearty, healthy food. After washing it down with a  pint of Shark’s Head Ale (on draught in the BARn, amazing), we had strawberry and apple crumble for dessert. Thoroughly comfy, we had another pint (a shandy for me) and wandered back to the tents for a night-time cup of tea.

It was FREEZING at night! I put on all of my clothes inside my sleeping bag around 4am, including my socks, and I still woke up shivering. It had been about 26 degrees during the day so the cloud must have completely scarpered.

The campsite was awoken by the RD driving up and down, blasting the Beatles and shouting through a megaphone ‘Time to get up and go for a run’, which was easily the best way to wake up from a tent sleep!

 After a cup of coffee and porridge in a cup, it was time to get dressed.  Before I knew it, it was nearly time for the race briefing and I was once again scrambling to the bathroom (I started Larmer the same way in March).  We were led up the hill for the briefing when I realised that I’d forgotten to take my inhalers. Luckily the tent was only down the hill, so I nipped off for that. I soon realised that I needed another bathroom break (ridiculous) so had to wait for the race to start, nip off in front and then veer into the toilets before meeting up with my friend in the first mile, just ahead of the sweeper. Phew! To make it even more dramatic, the race started with the farmer dressed as a centurion on horseback. WSR definitely know how to start their races memorably.

Before

Before

The run was lovely.  We ran/walked from the beginning, walking more at the end as our legs tired and the uneven ground became more risky to run on. It was really relaxed and we picked people up on the way, chatting about favourite races and what we were going to have at the next aid station. The marshalls were amazing – dressed up in Roman gear and smiling the entire time.  As the course loops we visited some of them twice, and I could have kissed the marshalls that had been standing out there for six or seven hours, keeping us safe with words of encouragement and cheery waves.

cheesemakers

Having completed Larmer in 5h40, I would have liked to so Invader in around 6. However, it was an extremely hot day and there was a section of about a mile and a half where we walked the whole way as it was rutted quite deeply. I know, excuses, excuses!

flying dorset INvader

Wheeeeee

Before we knew it we were at the Lovestation for the second time, around mile 21. 10k to go! We were back on familiar ground in reverse as we were following the loop we’d taken out. As we approached a field from a little path, a couple of people on camping chairs started ringing a bell. That was lovely because we knew then that we were not far from the finish and indeed, when we came out, we realised we were only one field away from the gantry. In our excitement, we almost missed the flags, but luckily there were some lovely people who jumped up and down enough for us to realise! Ah, race brain.

Dorset Finish

We crossed the finish line and were given our amazing medals and goody bags. Packet of crisps, biscuits, special Dorset Invader muff and homemade Dorset Invader jam, carefully packed.  Our time, by the way, was 6 hours and 12 minutes for 27 miles.  Not that it matters in WSR races, of course.

dirty invader feet

I was wearing socks and shoes, honest!

After a brilliant shower in the portashowers and the discovery of chafe and sunburn, we packed the car and set off back to Norwich, stopping at McDonalds along the way.  Thanks to our kind camping neighbours, who let us borrow space in their fridge for milk and even made us a cup of tea after the race.

Garmin trace here, if you like.

After. Look at the size of that bling!

After. Look at the size of that bling!

I really can’t recommend these races enough and I’m already planning the next WSR – The Ox in May 2016.  Come along!

Previous WSR reviews here and here

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Giant’s Head Marathon

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Saturday 28th June 2014

Marathon number 5

I was worried about this race. I’ve been plagued with hayfever/cold/cough/general rundownness since Paris marathon in April and haven’t been able to run more than 16 miles. Having seen the elevation and been assured that it was not a misprint, I was anxious that I wouldn’t complete it.

GHM elevation

My aim was to complete it within the cut off time of 8hours, 8 minutes and 9 seconds and as a couple of friends were the sweepers, I knew I was in trouble if I saw them!

So the race starts  at 8:30am in a small village called Sydling St Nicholas, about fifteen minutes’ drive from Dorchester. I stayed with my brother in Blandford (about forty minutes away) for a couple of days before, which was good as it broke the drive up a bit.

We set off about 6:30 on Saturday morning, praying for sun as the forecast was rain. It was grey but quite humid.

We found the race HQ very easily as it was really well signposted. We parked in the ‘Athlete’s Village’ as I was camping that night.

The whole series of races from White Star Running has a great sense of humour – the only thing taken seriously is making sure the runners are safe and well.

Food, water, beer, ice cream, free massages, free photos, camping for a small amount of money (£5 for two nights per tent), toilets and showers were all plentiful.

At 8:20am sharp we had the pre race briefing. It was such a small field (300 ish) that Andy, the RD, knew most people by name and made sure that the achievements were well known – the man who’s running 367 marathons this year (in a kilt), the Irish 100 marathon contingent, the pope and the smurf. He also warned us that the race would be started with a shotgun and would be extremely loud – he wasn’t wrong!

With the smoke clearing and the ringing in our ears, we were off! Until we hit the first hill, about three minutes in, when everyone started walking.

GHM grass GHM half way

I was running with my friends from the RW forum and we’d decided that we would have fun – the sun was shining and we had a ruddy lot of hills to conquer!

The route was hilly and uneven in places as it’s 98% off road, but it was beautiful and definitely worth it. The water stations were regular and stocked with ‘real people’ food like watermelon, peanuts, crisps, cakes and biscuits. We even had a vodka shot at one water station! The lovestation at mile 20 was the biggest of the aid stations and came with free hugs from the marshalls, a fantastic boost in what was then, five and a half hours in for us.

The finish was in sight after one last, loooooong hill up and a sharp descent. We’d picked up a couple of lone runners on the way and made sure they were alright. I think at this point we got the neat rum out too.

Group GHM Finish

We ran the last couple of kilometres together, crossing the line in 7hours and 15 minutes. My brother had finished in a very impressive 5 hours and 18 minutes – he hadn’t done any long distance training and had even had a chest infection which mean he had to use inhalers in the last month.

 GHM Finish

No goody bag filled with rubbish – instead we had a medal, a pint glass and a proper technical tshirt. Every single person was absolutely lovely and for the first time in many races, it felt like the participants were there to enjoy it and not just provide money to the organisers.

It may have been over 3 hours slower than my Paris marathon in April, but my fifth marathon was my most enjoyable. I even felt good enough to drive home that day, so I got to sleep in my own bed and spend Sunday on the couch!

The next running event is a half/20 mile/full in March next year, called the Larmer. I am signing up for the full – it’ll be a bit chilly but will definitely be fun!

Entry and more about WSR here: http://www.whitestarrunning.co.uk/index.php

my garmin trace: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/530375404

| Photo credits| 1 and 2: Running Richard| 3 Vixxy| 4 Dave W| Thank you for the brilliant pics!|