The Dorset Invader Weekend 29-30th July 2017

This weekend would involve Marathon number 15 for me, followed by a half marathon the following day.  Daniel and I have been looking towards doing double weekend marathons for a while, so we thought this would be a good way to see if our legs would hold out for 2 consecutive days.  It was to be said that he knows the  way to my heart; my colleagues were horrified at the idea that my husband would be making me run so far whilst camping but for me it was yet another brilliant Christmas present.

The weekend started, as always, with dropping the children off at my Dad’s and collecting our tent and super-thick airbed, which, as we discovered last year, means that we can at least move the morning after a marathon.  It’s more comfy than some of the hotel beds we have stayed in, and unlike our first marathon, lacks toe nails underneath… Armed with our camping gear we set off for Dorset.

The downside about leaving after my work meant that we didn’t have a lot of daylight to pitch the tent in.  This, accompanied by the constant pouring rain and resulting earlier darkness, meant that we were under pressure to pitch the tent fast.  On arrival at the farm we drove across a somewhat boggy field to reach the camping area and promptly parked the car to start pitching.

This is an area where Daniel tends to shine in his bossiness.  Rather like a general leading a campaign, he barked orders as I slithered about in my brand new wellies (bought in my lunch break with the reasoning that if I bought wellies, it would be sunny and dry all weekend!).  Unfortunately, as well as competing with the driving rain, we had also arrived in conditions that would easily have lifted Dorothy’s house to deposit her in Oz, never mind a little tent.  Somehow we got the poles in but as Daniel started to hammer in the first peg, the tent started to rise.  I clutched onto the guy ropes in a futile attempt to stop the tent lifting, but to no avail.  The tent began to lift into the air most determinedly and started to move across the field, and nothing either of us tried could stop it.

This was the point when about 8 other runners appeared out of the gloom, grabbed various bits of the tent and started helping us hammer it in.  We were extremely grateful as without their help we would never had pitched the tent.  Once the tent was finally up, we filled it with everything we could from the car, including about 20 litres of water, in an attempt to weight it down.  If we could have detached the engine at that point we would have!  It was a rather sleepless night as we listened to the wind roaring around the tent and it did feel at times as if we were on Aladdin’s flying carpet as the bottom of the tent gently rose in the wind.  Sea sickness appeared to be a real possibility.  It was a truly romantic night as we dozed fitfully, praying we wouldn’t wake up in the neighbouring field surround by cows…

Saturday morning dawned gloomily.  I could fully understand why the Romans hated our climate; who would willingly give up the sun-soaked Mediterranean lands for this?  No wonder the Romans left us!  We were fully prepared for a trail run but were a little wary of how the conditions might be considering the litres of rain that we had heard cascading over our tent during the night. Amazing, considering the gale that had blasted us, only one peg had worked loose.  We grabbed porridge and coffee at the burger van and once ready headed up the hill for the pre-race briefing.  Amidst the gloom we gathered with our comrades, some in full Roman battle dress.  Daniel was in his Mr Bump top and I was utterly inappropriate in little Miss Sunshine (Little Miss stuck under a raincloud would have been more apt).  We were joined by a general on horse-back who would lead us out of the farm and on our way.  With a cry of go (Daniel was hoping for On my command, Unleash Hell), we started to slither down the hillside and across the farm.

We hit the mud pretty quickly and this continued for the race.  Wherever we went, the mud was waiting for us, thick mud, gloopy mud, thin slippery mud, cascading down the hillside watery mud; that was just some of the selection.  Who knew there were so many types of mud?  By the time we had covered the first half mile our trainers were soaking and our legs were splatted with mud and other farm detritus (we’ll call that mud too, it sounds less gross).  On top of that, about an hour in to the race the rain began to fall with a ferocity that could match the Romans.  The damp conditions meant that I started to sound like Darth Vader, a bit of a miscasting considering the race had a Roman theme.

Despite the soggy conditions, it was a great race.  The route was lovely, very scenic and run over a mixture of surfaces; fields, woodlands, an old railway line.  The course consisted of a large lap and a smaller one, which meant that we passed aid stations regularly and the Lovestation (a key feature of a White Star Running event) twice.  The railway line was particularly good in that the trees afforded some shelter and the surface was reasonably dry and not slippery, as long as you didn’t run too close to the people in front of you as you joined the line and all the mud fell off their trainers onto the ground for you to run through).  There were crop fields to re-enact the Gladiator dream sequence if wished, but sadly it was just too soggy to match the sunshine that Russel Crowe got to enjoy.

We ended up walking some sections as it was just too slippery for us, though some of the faster runners were able to soar across the slippery sections with ease.  Just prior to arriving at the Lovestation we were passed by the first man and then the first lady, who charged through an ankle deep swamp in full Roman battle dress, armed with a sword! Daniel had a bit of a sulk about this, muttering that there was  no need to show off unless you were first, then someone pointed out that in fact this flying nemesis was on track to be first lady… Not far beyond we were welcomed by a very soggy but very cheerful vestal virgin to the Lovestation.  As with everyone on the aid stations, despite the gloom and rain, the support was cheery and enthusiastic; just what was needed.

The rain picked for the second lap and the mud got deeper.  I wondered whether this was some cunning plan to drown me on land as I refuse to join Daniel in open water swimming.  After all we have been married nearly 18 years and that was the kicker for poor Catherine of Arragon.  I did wonder whether Daniel was in fact hunting for a new wife amidst the dirt and mud which seemed a bit unfair as, wife or not, I was a very dirty woman by this point.  I consoled myself by thinking smugly that at least our stinking wet filthy kit would be travelling home in Daniel’s car…

By mile 23 the rain was pouring down and I put on a rain jacket as my asthma was really beginning to object to the temperatures.  The last 5 miles were very sticky and Daniel aka Mr Bump lived up to his name and had a crashing fall at around 26.5 miles.  At around 27.5 miles we had an incredibly steep up hill (which to be fair I wouldn’t have run in the dry) before a last section through the woods and then a descent across fields to the finish.  This bit here was a tricky one.  By now we had exceeded 28 miles and my legs were tired, so the downhill looked appealing.  However the ground was very wet and there was a turn at the bottom of the hill.  I was worried that I would end up sliding straight down the hill and crashing into some bedraggled supporters.  Daniel however charged straight down the hill so I followed and scrambled to keep up with him, crossing the finish line just behind him.

We got our Roman medals and then showered and changed.  Daniel decided to go ahead with the Chaos Race that evening but I gave that one a miss as I didn’t want to get soggy again.  To my utter horror, Daniel decided to reuse his kit from earlier, struggling into his soaking wet, muddy kit.  Poor Mr Bump was now brown and blue and soaking wet.  I’m glad I didn’t have to stand anywhere near him for the chaos race.  Filthy creature!

I headed off to the bar in the barn while Daniel did the chaos race and then he joined me for food.  The food was delicious.  Daniel was a little uneasy that we were eating our beef and pasta on a table full of vegans, but I had got to the table first  I didn’t mind sharing the table but I wasn’t giving up my dinner, which was great and far easier than trying to cook in a tent.

The wind howled and the rain poured down again (a bit like ‘Room on the Broom’, and yes we did resemble the frog in the bog earlier in the day).

Sunday morning we were set for the half (ish).  Amazing the sun had appeared.  We lined up again on the hill and set off on the same route, which was still pretty wet, although not quite as bad as we had feared.  What a difference the sun made though.  I sounded less Darth Vader-ish (yes, I know I’m weird because I love running when it’s hot and dry but cold, damp weather is no good for me).  Daniel on the other hand struggles with the heat.  I was impressed that my legs felt fine, a little tired but certainly not objecting.  Today we were greeted with cheers for Mr and Mrs Bump (don’t fret, the kit didn’t re-appear for a third time, Daniel is just one of those people that get remembered…)

We followed the route along, marvelling at the progressive dryness.  Bits of the route were almost unrecognisable as the ponds (sorry puddles) had dried out.  Our legs were muddy and our trainers wet and heavy, but not as bad as the previous day.

It was a lovely half, more scenic in the sunshine, still a great route although it sadly had the same brutal steep uphill, this time around 14 miles.

At over 14 ½ miles it was a long half, but utterly enjoyable.  We again had the chance to clean up before collecting the car (we had packed down the tent before the run).  The car resembled a dalmatian with mud splattered all over the driver’s side and the trainers were triple-bagged for the journey back to my Dad’s.  I thought that I had got off lightly when Daniel jet washed the trainers in my Dad’s garden, until we got home on Monday and I was privileged enough to wash the kit, which involved soaking the socks for hours to get rid of some mud (Daniel knows how to show a girl a dirty weekend full of filthy fun!).

The weekend was great, I loved the routes and was delighted that I could do a full and a half.  The marshalls were great, the site was well organised, the portaloos/showers were kept clean, the catering was great; it was a fabulous event.  At the services on the way home I was booking my place for the second day of the East Farm Frolic.  It was an utterly enjoyable, utterly filthy, utterly fun weekend and I can’t wait to head back to East Farm later this month.  Thank you White Star for another great dirty weekend away.

Mary Connolly