Trail Running in Texas & beyond

Dorset Ultra

Two months ago, my wife suggested we head to Berlin to visit some friends.  I decided since I was going to be Europe may as well try to see if there was an interesting race to run while I was there.  The Dorset Ultra fit the bill and the schedule.


Plane (x2), train (x2), automobile.  Not an ideal pre-race rest plan spending 22 hours in transit from Austin, Texas, to Weymouth, England, with snatches of sleep along the way.  Rolled into where I was staying about 7pm and after checking in at race registration tried to head to bed.  Of course, I couldn’t sleep.  By morning, I had about 6 hours of fitful sleep over the course of the previous  2 nights.


The series races include Ultra / 50k, marathon, half marathon, and 10k.  The attendance was tilted towards the shorted distances; 70% of the entries where half or 10k.   At 8pm, the 80 who were entered in the Ultra plus about 40 early start marathon runners headed to the starting corral.  Timing was done differently than I’ve seen before.  Instead of all heading out at once, one by one people slot their timing chip into a box and then head out on the course.  Chip time determines the finishing order.  You also slot your chip into boxes at each check point.

I don’t typically describe courses as in my race report in detail but this course had some unique features.  The first of which are these stiles that pass over between fields.

(picture not from the race weekend but this is along the Dorset coast)

They definitely caused minor traffic jams early in the race while later on they grew slick with mud (and seemed to have grown a few feet taller).

The first 2.5 miles are easy as you work through a series of these gates and down towards the coast.  Then comes the first  climb and sets the tone for the rest of the race to come:  hard climbs up and wicked steep descents.  The trail is clay mud so sticking to the grass if possible is the best plan of attack.  There are often stairs but it was best to avoid them if possible.

Next next little section features Bat Cove and Durdle Door, a major local sightseeing attraction.

(all images here and below from here)

Shortly after checkpoint 3 was a nice climb followed by another brutal descent (-35%).  The footing was bad and I simply couldn’t find a way to relax and let go.  Thus begun the trashing of my quads.  Mile 8 to mile 9 was easy enough and my total time was around 90 minutes so on the surface I was doing well but it wasn’t sustainable.  I was working too hard and my quads already were feeling the effects of the downhill descents.  Even worse, my foot issues flared up.  I’d had hoped that the relativity soft and smooth course would be kind to my foot where I am battling something that seems a lot like Morton’s Neuroma (official diagnosis has been elusive), however, a caught a rock just right and on came the pain.

Starting at mile 9-10 came the most difficult stretch of the race, both physically and mentality.  5 big climbs over 8 miles, average grade around 12%.  The first climb was the worst at ~30% over a quarter mile but the others were certainly no picnic.  Plus now I had to deal with foot pain.

On the climb up to checkpoint 4, I started to cramp up a bit.  After troubles with hydration during a 50k 2 weeks ago, I was trying to be more vigilant with water but I think I got a bit sloppy during this section of climbs.  On the plus side, I was doing pretty well on nutrition and my stomach felt great.  I filled up at CP4, popped a few more s-caps, and started the trek back.   Up until this point we had been hugging the ridge line right next to the cliffs but now we were going to work a bit inland.  Passed through a gate and came upon a half dozen horses.  How nice it would be to borrow one of those for the rest of the race.  I was doing my best at this point not to start to entertain ideas of cutting the run short and finishing with the marathon runners but it was feeling like a losing battle.

Around mile 18, we came back through West Lulworth and where we merged with the half marathon runners.  Mixing in with the half marathon runners was a mixed blessing.  One one hand, it was nice to be around some people again and I had a few nice chats, but on the other hand, they were much fresher and moving much better than I was at this point on a whole.   There was a mix of locals, tourist, and spectators cheering on the runners as they came through town that provided a nice lift to the spirits.

Miles 18 to 21 was one long climb with a few false summit.  It was along one of these false summits, that I settled the question of whether I was going to finish the full Ultra or not.  Any time goal was long since out of the question.  The next 5 miles, I move as well as I have in a while.  Granted it was net down hill but, still, I was running more than I wasn’t and that couldn’t be said for the previous 10 miles.  At mile 25 was a turn-off for the Ultra from the Marathon course, I had made the cutoff with about 30 minutes to spare.  It was a pretty aggressive cutoff as they didn’t want anyone out there along the cliffs after dark and many runners didn’t make it.

The extra miles looped back onto part of the coarse we did earlier in the day.  After 1000 runners through, the muck was considerably worse.  Miles 27 and 28 was the very first climb of the day all over again, it just took 50% longer this time through.  At this point, I started hoping for a DFL.  If I was going to struggle so much at least I could get a DFL (dead fucking last).   Somewhere around mile 30 was the last aid station and I stopped and some biscuits (english biscuits, so closer to a light butter cookie) caught my eye.  They were the most brilliant thing ever at that point in time.

The last 5 miles took about an hour and I finished at 7 hours, 5 minutes, 51 seconds.  Unfortunately that wasn’t even close to a DFL as I was 27 out of the 39 who finished the Ultra (~50% starters finished).  Looking back at the splits, I gave up the majority of time and places in that middle section.  I could have been better prepared for the hills and the lack of sleep certainly played a role, but mostly I think it came down to bad technique on the downhills and loss of mental focus.  It probably didn’t help that I ran a 50k two weeks prior and I didn’t feel all that recovered from that race.  There certainly wasn’t that spring in my legs that you hope for pre-race.

Race stats:

  • Distance:  33.6 miles (~55k)
  • Ascent:  6013 ft
  • Finishing time:  7:05:51

Post Race

That evening there was lecture (and beer) event.  Stuart Mills shared stories about his 2 runs through UTMB and his approach to training.  Tobias Mews & Phil Davis provided many laughs with their story of running the Marathon de Sables desert stage race.  What was interesting was both Stuart and Tobias’ approach to training which emphasized fewer but high quality miles.  The message in both was simply have confidence in your plan and follow it.  Both discount long slow miles.  This is a large debate right now in endurance running and the high-intensity workout method falls in line with the crossfit theory of workouts.  I see the merit in it but I also wonder if the improved performance is also due to having a strong endurance & fitness base.  I suspect that both methods are beneficial and cycling back and forth may be the right approach depending on where you are in your training / racing cycle.  Something I think I am going to think about as I start my next training cycle after Bandara.

I wasn’t pretty out of it from the lack of sleep and the run so I wasn’t overly sociable but I did meet some very nice runners and chatted about the usual things trail runners tend to chat about.

If I was in England, I’d do every one of these races.  I’d make another side trip if future travel plans align.  The races are in beautiful locations and well run.

One nice surprise is that I won the guess the winner’s number contest.  That scored me a free set of 2XU compression tights.  I can only compare them CW-X compression gear.  They are a bit thinner which is nicer during warmer days.  They also have a better seam design and overall are comfortable and good design.  The only problem I have with them right now is that it seems that the ankle opening is too small and not elastic so it is very difficult to get it over my heel when pulling on.

The other new is that I recently picked up is a pair of Hoka Mafate trail shoes.  I really wish I had them at Dorset.  I have 5 runs in them of varying lengths, including 3 over technical trails, and for the first time in many months, I haven’t had foot pain while running.  They are certainly a bit different but I’ll put up with clown feet for pain-free running.  So far the only area where I have found the Hokas to be a bit challenging is going fast through weaving trails, especially if the trail is slick.  In general, I wouldn’t call them an agility shoe but for trail running, they have solved one my biggest nagging problems and make running long technical trails fun again rather than being a run filled with tiny land mines on every step.

2 Responses to “Dorset Ultra”

  1. Ben Martinez says:

    very awesome read.

  2. Excellent adventure and race Ben! Way to represent TX. 🙂 I hope your foot heals. Looking forward to training in 2012 with you. Happy New Year! David.