“You never fail until you stop trying” Albert Einstein
Saturday 19th August 2017 and the three of us stand in the car park at Stonebarrow, Charmouth, Dorset for a second time in 8 weeks to again take on the Two’r Ultra Run. Undeterred by our last efforts reaching 104 miles at Kimmeridge Bay along the 164 route. Just after 0750 hours Mark, Pete and myself set off having learnt lessons from our previous attempt. We planned to keep a steady pace as before but this time minimise the time spent at Checkpoints. We realised we had used almost 8 hours in total on our previous attempt. The weather was cool, with some cloud cover as we started. The weekend was set to be hot and sunny all day Saturday and clear overnight. The weather was due to turn on Sunday with wind and heavy rain.
We ran the first hilly part of the course over the Golden Cap, the highest part of the Jurassic Coast at 627ft. This part of the course is undulating and quite challenging. As we reached CP1 we met Justin and Jon, grabbed a small sandwich and banana, filled my bottle and headed off, we were out of the CP within a couple of minutes. Our pace continued up and over the cliffs at Westbay, through Burton Bradstock and onto Chesil Beach. The Beach section was as I remembered it last time. Horrible! We did a run walk across the fine pebbles and eventually got to CP2. Again this was a quick stop in under 5 minutes. I was feeling good, the temperature had now warmed up considerably and I was drinking the two full 400ml drinks bottles I had between CP’s. The course from CP2 heads inland towards the Swanery at Abbotsbury. I really like this part of the course as you head away from the sea. The course has such a varied amount of terrain, from road sections, beach pebbles, steep sharp ascents and descents, rocky paths, grass with just about every kind of terrain imaginable. The course then heads back out towards the Fleet. This part of the course seems to go on for a number of miles, maybe because it does. The heat here is pretty intense with often no wind or breeze to cool you down. It was a huge relief to arrive at CP3 which we again used as Ben’s House as I had run out of drinks a mile or so back. Ben had been amazing again making us drinks and supplying us with food and water. We were able to use his hose to soak hats and buffs to cool off.
Just prior to arriving at Ben’s we had come across Martyn Odell who was originally going to run the Two’r with us back in June but due to injury he has had to write the year off to recover and rebuild. As he jogged over to us he looked pretty strong to me, it was great to run along and catch up with him. He had planned to stay with us until the Olympic rings at Portland.
At Ben’s I was able to start looking after my legs with Betteryou Magnesium oil. From here I used it at every other CP to help the legs recover and fight off cramping.
We had stayed here a bit longer than we had planned but it was probably needed as it had been so hot and the heat was certainly taking it out of us. We made super progress to Ferrybridge arriving there in good shape, one marathon down, five to go. We had covered this first marathon in 5:30, much quicker than our previous trip here so stopping for less time at the CPs was certainly working, although it didn’t feel like we were any quicker. We were in and out of this CP under our five minute cap. What follows this CP is 2 miles of tarmac running across the long road to Portland. I could feel the heat reflecting off the pavement and there was no sign of it letting up. It was a massive relief to hit the hill up to Portland so I could stop running and yomp up the hill. This hill is pretty steep and at the top we met Jon Cox who was up there to cheer us on with a little support. The west coast of Portland always seems to be windy and today was no exception. I had to take my hat off to prevent it from blowing off the cliff. The heat was pretty intense here. The views were spectacular with the waves crashing up onto the cliff. It was absolutely stunning and for me really added to the enjoyment of the run. I could however start to feel a couple of hot spots on the balls of both feet and the side of my left big toe. Previously I had just ignored this and except that blisters are part of the course. I chatted it over with Martyn as we headed towards Portland Bill and he suggested I stick some blister plasters on before they get too bad.
Arriving at Portland Bill I told the guys I would need a little more time than our allocated 5 minutes to sort my feet. I think we stayed there for about 15 minutes in the end. After sorting my feet with blister dressings, and a little to eat we were off again. Just as we started on the East side of Portland I saw a pod of dolphins. There must have been about 20 or so, both large and smaller young dolphins. They were about 100 metres off shore and just seemed to be playing around in the water jumping in and out over each other. They were headed in the same direction as us so we had company for that whole side of Portland. It slowed our pace as we kept looking over at them. That was a real special moment seeing the dolphins and a real privilege. The heat by now was scorching and I was going through my drinks so quickly. I was starting to feel drained and although I had tried to make my feet feel better I just had to accept that I would be running on what felt like nails in the balls of both my feet although the right was much worse than the left.
As we reached the Olympic Rings we said goodbye to Martyn who was being picked up Janine. They were spending the weekend in Dorset before flying back to Switzerland on Sunday night. They were planning to try and catch us again either later in the day or tomorrow. As I headed down the coast path back to the bottom of Portland and started to head back to Ferrybridge my feet were in bits, the pain was pretty intense. It felt like it had not completely healed from the previous run and I had just aggravated the deep blisters I had had before. I had really dropped back from the other two and was just running in my own world.
At Ferrybridge 41 miles into the 164 mile run I felt utterly crap. The heat was hurting me, I felt dehydrated and like I still had such a long way to go, although I did try and keep these negative thoughts under control so as not to show the guys. And at times when I found myself thinking about this long run I reined it back in and thought about just getting to the next CP. The section from Ferrybridge to Weymouth and beyond is all tarmac. This was pretty hard going on the feet and I couldn’t wait to get back on the trail. Weymouth on a Saturday evening was massively busy. So busy that running in the road seemed the more sensible option. As we passed through the centre of the Prom we passed Pete’s wife Ginny and his two kids, that was nice to see them and a relief to stop if only for a moment. At the end of the Prom we met Ben and Dave Miller who had popped out to say hi again. Oh and to give us chips too, a salty warm treat that hit the spot. There would be no lying on the grass for me this time. We got off the road and back onto the Coast path proper. This follows a lovely grassy section which is very up and down but after the 6 miles of flat tarmac it was a massive relief. Dave Miller stayed with us to CP7 at the Smugglers Arms.
Arriving at the Smugglers we were met by Alun Jones and his brother in law. I had met Alun in Cardiff the year before at Matt Pritchard’s 30 half irons in 30 days. Alun was in Weymouth for the weekend reccing the Ironman 70.3 course and took the time to come and offer us some support. He looked pretty happy drinking his pint of beer. It was lovely to catch up with him, I heard after seeing us and commenting on us looking in good shape he has now entered his first ultra. Good on Alun.
We left the Smugglers and it was still daylight. Half way along this section I realised that the daylight would fade before we would get to Lulworth Cove. We hadn’t brought head torches with us so had to get a bit of a move on. The views along here past Durdle Door are spectacular. Just as we went past Durdle Door the sun set, but the path is quite well marked with white stone so the reflection off the moon lit the way. Pete had run on. I stayed with Mark who was struggling. He had come into the run with an injury and this had been bothering him since we began. He told me he was going to give up at Lulworth. I managed to convince him to get some hot food on board, get warm, I told him we could have a longer stop and then head out. He agreed he would.
At Lulworth, Martyn and Janine had returned to see us. He was again in good spirits and he has the sort or personality that really lifts your mood. Also there to take over from Justin for a couple of CPs was Gary Fisher and Mike Marchant. Both top blokes who have both completed the Oner, Mike in 2015 and Gary this year. Both volunteered to take over the night section so Justin could get some rest having been with us from the start. I cannot thank Gary and Mike enough for putting themselves out for us like this. They were great company and couldn’t do enough for us.
Hot drinks, beans and sausages and I was good to go. Due to the logistics of getting a car into Kimmeridge Bay in the night Jon Cox was going to meet us on foot with water there. As we headed off and got closer to Kimmeridge Bay Mark confirmed he would pull out at Kimmeridge at 60 miles. I was really disappointed for him but it was the right decision as he needs to get his injury sorted. He was going to stay on with us and support Pete and I through it. The section from Lulworth is completed in the dark, both for the Two’r and the Oner and it by far the hardest part of the course. In the dark you cant even see the height and steepness of the hills you have to go over.
I went on ahead from Pete and Mark and was starting to feel ok. The sun had set and the temperature had lowered but I felt slightly better. My feet were still as sore, with every step the feeling of nails being driven into the balls of my feet continued. As I headed down the last big decline towards the exit gate and out of the ranges the wind had picked up quite a bit and the air was quite damp. I met up with Jon Cox standing in the dark next to the toilets. A strange place to meet I must say!
On the arrival of Mark he announced he was done and it was clear from his face there was no convincing him to go on. A quick hug, restock of water and Pete and I headed off on our own towards CP10 and St Alden’s Head. Pete’s mood seemed to drop and I think it hit him and myself hard that Mark had pulled out. We made really slow progress to St Alden’s Head. It’s a pretty tough part of the course with some steep ascents and descents and a number of steps up to St Alden’s Head, I think it was 216 up (maybe). However before you get to this point there is an inland bit of the coast path due to a diversion which seems to take you all round the houses and is quite soul destroying.
When we arrived at St Alden’s head we were met by Gary and Mike, they were like too excited teenagers. They couldn’t do enough for us. They set up a couple of chairs out of the wind, made us some hot food and drink and tried the best they could to raise our dampened spirits. It was not out of the wind as there is no place out of the wind on this part of headland. I felt pretty refreshed and as we left thought to myself “when the sun comes up, it’s a whole new day, everything’s going to feel so much better”. If only this were the case. We found ourselves now at a steady walk and running had now stopped. We made really slow progress and on route to CP11 at Swanage Pete told me he was going to stop. He was also done and couldn’t see the point of putting himself through another 7.5 miles of pain to effectively finish the Oner in 25 hours at our current pace. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach, questions kept going round in my head about carrying on on my own, questioning the purpose of this and how I could end the pain in my feet now and go home. I was really torn between pulling out and going on. I really didn’t know what to do. As we stumbled into CP11, we met Justin who was reasonably upbeat for someone who hadn’t had a great deal of sleep. Pete officially stopped. I took on some food and a hot drink. I was talking out loud “what shall I do” I remember Pete saying “you have to ask yourself if you have another 90 miles in your legs?”. I felt frustrated and angry and found myself running away from the CP towards Studland cursing everyone. I was now angry.
I thought to myself, right that’s it I’m going to finish the Oner in under 24 hours, go out in style and end this at Studland so I ran. I was pleasantly surprised I could still run after walking the last section and feeling like I now had broken glass in my shoes. I ran and carried on running and knew I had to dig deep to get in within 24 hours. After running around Swanage and through the estate and onto the coast path I speed marched up the hill to the top and then started running again, I didn’t stop once, well only to take a couple of pictures of the sun coming up. I hit the beach and could see that I had just enough time to get in if I carried on running at the pace i had been running. My pace felt pretty fast but I had been up for 24 hours plus so I could have been dreaming this.
I hit that beach with everything I had and made really good progress, towards the end the shore turns to the left and the end of the South West Coast Path. I looked at my watch and had absolutely nailed it, against all odds I had smashed it in under 24 hours. Just as I headed over to the bridge and car park I saw Justin and Mark walk out. I had caught them napping as they didn’t expect me so soon. I remember one of them asking if I had got a lift. I had finished the Oner run (82 miles) in 23 hours 47 minutes. In my mind I was happy with that and I was done. I was happy.
Justin said “no you’re not, I’m making you hot baps at Swanage”. I then started to question myself. Pete looked pretty beat sitting on a camping chair in the back of Justin’s van all wrapped up. This is where I really wanted to be. Mark was trying to sort me out with some porridge which was so watery I was able to just drink it. I rang Wendy to ask her what to do. She told me she was proud whatever, that I had nothing to prove and if I wanted to stop I could, if I wanted to just go from CP to CP and see how I felt I could. Justin was very very keen for me to go on, Mark asked me if I had given it everything I had. I told him well I can still run so I guess not. The decision was made and before too long I found myself again running along Studland Beach heading back to Swanage and CP13. Just as I got off the beach I had a phone call from Rab (Two’r support crew from 1st attempt) who was supporting from far up in Scotland. He told me to get a move on as I hadn’t even got to Studland yet. I felt slightly offended by this assumption. I told him I was on my way back, that I was on my own and that I had had enough. He was very supportive telling me not to be a “pussy” not to be shit and to not stop and get it finished. It was great to chat to him and I thought he’s right, “just keep going you pussy”. I continued to run making progress up past Old Harry’s Rocks and to the top of the hill prior to dropping back down to Studland. The views were beautiful. It was so quite and I felt at ease. The sun was again beating down and I was boiling hot. As I got to the top it was as if someone had turned off my lights. I laid down on the floor looking out to sea. I felt a calm around me and shut my eyes. Within moments of doing this I virtually kicked myself and sat up, again questioning myself about what the hell I was doing. I was empty, the tank was empty, all the fuel was gone. I ate a ham and piccalilli wrap Mark had given me which revived me enough to get off my arse up and carry on. I walked down from the hill past some stubborn cows which would not get off the path, I was so tired I didn’t care that I was facing down a massive cow with horns who was snorting at me. I passed them without incident and got down to the part of the Path where the holiday houses meets the road. I sat down on the kerb and then again laid down partly in the gutter. A couple of women walked by and stopped to check on me. The tank was empty again. I carried on laying down and ate a satsuma and some nuts. More people were passing me by just looking at me with puzzled looks on their faces.
I was about to call to get picked up when the food had hit the spot enough to get me back off the floor and then I ran back across the prom at Swanage. However when I say run, I can only describe it as a bent over stumbling drunk person who could have been passed by someone walking on their hands. I was walking with my knuckles dragging along the floor. The pain in my feet was off the scale, I was so tired. I started to fill up with disappointment about having to stop, I could not go on anymore. At the end of the Prom I started to walk as in my head I was stopping at the CP. A 4 year old girl with her mother ran past me as if I had stopped. I started to cry and and then saw Mark walking towards me. He put his arm on me and told me I could stop. I cried telling him how tired and hard it was and that my feet hurt. I told him I was done. We walked up to the CP and I laid on the grass covered my face with my hood and thought I am done, no I wasn’t, yes I was, the turmoil inside was like a massive tug of war being yanked from side to side. Justin told me again that I wasn’t finished and I could smell the food being cooked. It was enchanting, I then had a bacon and egg bap thrust into my hand with the words “get that down you, it will sort you out” and then Mark handed me some fresh filter coffee. The taste was amazing, the warm food and drink had brought me back to life, from being in the red on the fuel gage to still being in the red but just hovering past the refill sign.
Ok, I’m going to carry on then. What a difference that food made. It wasn’t going to change the feeling in my feet but I was going to go on. Phil who had been in the last support crew arrived with his daughter Charlotte and her husband Serge (and Fern the dog). Charlotte had her running gear on and was going to run the next section with me. So I jumped up and off we went. I remember apologising to her for four things as we started:
- I really smell
- I will swear a lot
- I spit a lot and
- I am really slow
I was still able to run and on every bit of path which was runnable I was running. Anything that resembled a hill I speed walked. The path felt so much easier than the previous night. We were making great progress and as I hit roughly the 4 mile mark, BANG the lights went out again. The engine was again empty. The roller coaster calorie deficit was in full swing. I ate the second part of the piccalilli wrap from earlier and was able to carry on. We made ok progress and covered this section to St Alden’s head in 2 hours. I was pleased with that.
Arriving at St Alden’s Head I was again a grey man with nothing left, completely empty of any energy. I laid on the ground until more fresh coffee and hot pasta was thrust into my hands, Before too long I was ready to go again. Charlotte stayed with me for about a mile or so and then peeled off to meet Serge and Phil and go home. I was really touched they had made the long journey over to see me for such a small amount of time. Thank you guys.
Back up and down the hundreds of steps at St Alden’s Head, and around the inland section, I was seeing runners coming towards me who were doing a coastal marathon in the opposite direction. They seemed happy enough. I did get some strange stares. As I continued over the step sections, half way up one of them I laid down at the side of the path again having hit that calorie deficit roller coaster. I ate what food I had, got up and carried on. A couple of miles later Jon Cox was a welcome sight, he had come over from Lulworth to meet me and run back there with me. What a trooper. It was great having some company. I think Jon was surprised I was still moving reasonably well all things considered.
As we dropped into Kimmeridge Bay and CP15 I was pretty tired, grey and again empty of any energy. Gary had come back out with his wife and daughter to encourage me on. Gary’s wife had also made me a Chicken Bagel which made me smile and laugh a lot. It was so kind of them. You will see the significance of the chicken bagel by watching the behind the scenes video from when I crewed the Oner earlier in the year, link via Brutal Events website. Gary was again full of life and kept going on about seeing me at Portland. I think he knew really I wasn’t going to make it but I appreciated his confidence in me. St Alden’s to Kimmeridge in just under 2 hours, again a respectful time.
Arriving at Kimmeridge Wendy and Jake had now arrived. Jake was dressed in running kit and wanted to go to Lulworth with me. Jon reminded me that I had to carry on to Lulworth as his car was there. To be honest I was pretty spent and would rather not. This is where I had got to 8 weeks previous. I had to go on.
I sat in the back of the car, took my shoes and socks off to relieve some pressure from my feet. They were just painful. This is where we had got to on the last attempt 104 miles but somehow this time it seemed much harder. Again I was empty, however Justin made me more coffee and another bacon and egg bap. Ok so I’m going on again. Let the calorie roller coaster continue. After a much needed break we were off. The wind had really whipped up and I was quite cold. We headed off, just as we got out of the carpark the heavens opened and the wind and rain was now set in. We went back to the car to get proper wet weather gear and then again set off. The section to Lulworth over the army ranges through Kimmeridge is the toughest part of the course by far at night, in the day its twice as hard. You can actually see what you have to climb up and down. I couldn’t believe how close you are to a massive drop off a cliff. Was it really this steep the previous night? The rain was coming in sideways with the wind and on a couple of occasions I was blown into some barbed wire. I was pretty wet and I don’t think I had a dry part on my body. We continued on, the parts that were runnable were run. Underfoot was pretty treacherous now due to the rain. We however made good progress covering this section in 2 hours 20 mins, Jon had suggested that it might take us 3 to 3 1/2 hours, so all I have to say to that is Boom.
As I headed down towards the road at Lulworth I had pretty much decided I was going to stop. That decision was firmed up in my mind by the weather which was now set in like this for the rest of the day and night at least.
I asked myself. “do I still have another 50 miles in my legs”. The answer to this was probably No, or was it Yes, but being honest to myself I didn’t want to find out. I was done. Finished. Had enough.
I felt happy, I was really pleased with what I had done, how far I had got and what I learnt. I did not feel like I had failed, I was not disappointed. I was just very content that I had done what I could on a pretty tough course. I didn’t feel the need to go back and try again (well at least not this year). I would love to see someone complete the course. Later I was asked by someone what I had injured and why I had stopped. Nothing was injured. There was no real reason. It was just a bloody hard course, it was just hard, no extremely hard. The Two’r is there for someone to complete it. I have an idea who that might be 😉
Again thanks have to go to the amazing crew who supported us throughout. Justin, Dave, Jon, Ben, Martyn, Janine, Ginny, Wendy, Jake, Gary and Mike who without them this would never would have even been possible to attempt. And so it continues……..