Dorchester Marathon is an unusual thing for a White Star Running event in that it is almost entirely on road, rather than trails, however the signature White Star event elements are all there, including camping for the weekend, on site food, booze and entertainment and excellent aid stations out on the course. The race was on Sunday of the bank holiday weekend in late May and so I started off on Saturday with the usual family run at Frimley Lodge parkrun. Normally, on a race weekend, that would mean taking it easy and having a chatty run with Elinor, but we agreed that I would set up the Garmin virtual pacer for 26 minutes (close to her PB) and we would see what happened. She ran hard all the way and I kept pace giving encouragement until she smashed her previous best of 3 years ago by 55 seconds and sub-25 minutes. Even better news, was finding out that son Alfred also beat his PB of 3 years ago, shaving 2 seconds off to go 21:30 and only 12 seconds off my own PB. Brilliant! - I helped them celebrate by having a huge cooked breakfast.
I was looking forward to the marathon next day, my second with WSR, but was a bit wary about the weather forecast. On Friday it was saying there would be thunder storms during the race, on Saturday morning this had changed to raining all day, by the evening it had changed to raining all morning, but with thunder storms overnight. I got my gear together and packed the car thinking I had everything and set off following the sat nav which I had set to somewhere near the start/finish camp site, guessing I would see signs when I got close. I only lost about 20 minutes through traffic, spotted a WSR event sign and loads of Dorset county flags near the outskirts of Dorchester and was quickly directed to the camp site registration and then off to my pitch for the weekend. I had my tent up quickly and then helped out neighbours Claire and Marina with theirs as it was getting windy.
I had probably seen Claire at other marathon events around the south of England and she had also been at the Ox races two weeks ago, but we had never met. She had brought loads of gear and quickly got a kettle going for tea. I had only brought cereal for breakfast and a few snacks and was hoping to find food on site. At around 7pm I set off to the big event tent to see what was on offer. There were a couple of stalls outside, but I went in to see what food was there, only to be told that it was all pre-booked only and only available past 8pm if you hadn't booked a meal. So no lasagne or sausage and mash for me and I went back outside to find a choice of pizza or chicken jambalaya. I went for the jambalaya, a kind of spicy chicken and rice with loads of watercress on top. It was a big portion and went down well with a pint of Piddle IPA.
The tent was about half full of families and the White Star team having dinner and listening to an old couple playing accordion and banjo ukulele for a bit of country dancing. I had my dinner and ale which were both very tasty and then went off to check my race kit for the next day finding I had forgotten running underpants and my glasses. So, a quick search found spare contact lenses in my race kit, so I would be OK with just an early night, and pants I had on would have to do (actually not so bad as they were for running and I had showered mid-day). I set my alarm for 6am for the 8:30 start and got to bed by 10:30, laying awake watching lightening flashes and listening to the thunder around the campsite. Fortunately it never got that close and I got a decent night's sleep.
Up at 6am, it was dry so I made a dash for the loos, then back for breakfast of muesli and banana and the rest of a pint of milk, before getting my race kit on.
I decided to go for a base layer, club vest, light weight arm guards, a cap to keep the rain off, trail running shorts with loads of pockets for gels, calf guards, toe socks as they help me avoid blisters and Hoka Bondi 4 shoes, which should be comfy all day for a road marathon. I got the tent packed away and thrown in the car just before the rain came down hard and then sheltered in the car or with Claire and Marina having tea in their tent till just before the start.
I was going to wear my rain jacket for the morning run in the rain, but a last check of the weather forecast looked like it would just be raining for an hour or so, so I ditched the jacket and headed off to the loos of which there were loads and only a short queue, before lining up at the back of the marathon field and finding former club mate and now Stubbington Green runner Simon Gibbon and fellow SJ runner Lance King.
By now the rain had stopped and the sun had come out and we set off for what turned out to be a day of hot sunshine and not a drop of rain. So much for the weather forecast, but at least I wasn't carrying a jacket round with me all day! I remembered Claire had set off for the start wearing her rain jacket and hoped she had managed to leave it behind as, even leaving Cokers Frome Farm on to the road into Dorchester, it was heating up and humid with steam rising off the tarmac.
On the steady climb up the high street I first passed multiple 100 marathon runners Karen Summerville and Ruth Benzimra [aka PloddingHippo] for a little chat and catch up and then caught up with the green team from Stubbington including Simon. It looked like they were going to all run together and I thought I would join them, but after a few more miles I eased away at my own comfortable pace.
The course starts off crossing the River Frome, climbing up the High Street before turning south and then east to head out of Dorchester on gently undulating roads following the River Frome past Frome Hill, and lovely little villages of West Stafford and Woodsford. Here the course turns north through Tincleton, with a small hill up to mile 9 before the bigger undulations start to come in for the second half of the course. I made it to half way in about 2:18 which seemed sensible given the hot conditions and the hills to come.
WSR had us all taken care of with really nice aid stations with squash and water, sweets and savoury snacks and a cooling sponge. I was glad of my cap to keep the sun off and dowse in water to cool my head, and also the arm guards that acted as sun-block and felt very cooling with a bit of water to soak them.
After mile 14 we were running alongside the River Piddle through Briantspuddle and Affpuddle and to another aid station at Tolpuddle around mile 18 where I was met by a former Sandhurst Jogger, Marian Eldridge. She was stood in a shady spot and I was happy to stop for a chat for a few minutes before setting off again.
The next two miles were a bit of a trial with no shade and a steady gentle climb on hot tarmac until we turned off oddly on to a concrete farm track. It's supposed to be a road marathon, but this change of surface was a nice little distraction whose purpose soon became clear when I rounded a corner to be met by the LOVE STATION.
This was just what I needed. First to be met by a lovely cold wet woman who offered me a "wet hug" and then squished two sponges of cold water down my neck. Then over to the barn with a band playing Handbags and Gladrags for snacks and drinks including some beer. This was my slowest mile, but with the heat, definitely one of the most enjoyable. Out of the farm we crossed over the A35 and the only time we were subjected to any road noise on the whole route, which is almost all on small B-roads closed to traffic and only a couple of miles where traffic was coned off from us. This made for a gloriously peaceful run in the countryside with just the wind in the trees and birdsong to accompany us.
To mile 23 and the last aid station with a sign claiming the road ahead to be the Last Big Hill. It certainly felt huge, but the views as we climbed up higher and higher were spectacular.
On the way down the other side I was jogging along entertaining cyclists battling the hill with a cheery wave and calling out to them "Come on, Well Done! You Can Do It! You're Nearly There!" With a mile to go passing the 25 mile sign I could hear the announcer at he finish line and with half a mile to go could see the turn in to the farm ahead with a small crowd of marshals and first aiders to show me the way. Then, as I made the turn for the last 200m, I got a call on my phone. I thought, "That can wait" and ran down to through the finish line crowds to the glorious sound of the theme tune to Super Mario Brothers! Quite a finish.
I finished in about 5:06 something, collected a lovely medal, a t-shirt and a handshake from the Mayor of Dorchester. I staggered around a bit wondering what to do next and found someone giving away free smoothies of ice cold watercress, spinach and mango; very healthy sounding, and also delicious. Then headed off to the car to get ready for the journey home - unfortunately that call I missed was to say there had been a fire at the in-law's house, so I had to go straight away.
Here's the profile. It's a bit lumpy but the scenery was wonderful all the way round and even though it was hot and challenging, it was a superb event with great marshals, well stocked aid stations, the brilliant LOVE STATION and a really nice spot to camp for the weekend. They also have a half marathon which is also scenic (i.e. hilly) and also really popular.