You never forget your first time

So, once again I find myself back again at East Farm, the scene of my first marathon one year ago; and that time it hurt, to the extent I doubted whether I would do another. But that was then and having done 3 since, plus an Ultra, I guess that race was the start of the addiction. It’s fair to say this race has a special place in my heart, as do all at White Star Running (WSR), but I wonder if I’d made it out to be more than it was just because it was my first.

Training had not gone too well, the marathoners cliché I know, having pulled out of the Wedding Cow 50k at ‘only’ marathon distance with back problems some 5 weeks before, I had only done one long run since then. With that in mind, confidence was a little low come race day.

And man was race day ever so hot, and humid! (I reserve the right to mention the humidity again, And again!) Arriving at East Farm you are reminded of how awesome WSR events are. Car parking? Yes, lots of it, something other events could do well to think about, wherever practical. From the car park a stroll through the camp site , ahem, athletes village. Nods and hellos to faces familiar from other races, and onwards to number collection which, as usual, was a painless affair. Pop-up shop’s were also here -you bring notes and buy stuff. By now various toga clad runners and centurions were starting to mill around – how some of you guys run in those costumes is beyond me.

At this point my mind turned to the threats of violence that had been directed at me from Kelly, a member of the WSR Facebook group, having encouraged and cajoled her, some may say bullied, into entering this event only 3 weeks after she’d run the Giants Head marathon. Needless to say this fear led me to needing the bathroom, so I promptly  headed in that direction, where upon I was ambushed by Kelly herself. Turns out she is not so violent in real life and, Kelly, it was a pleasure to meet you.

Then time for a few team photo’s, as usual me standing out by not wearing a club top, and looking all mean and moody whereas all the others have huge smiles upon their faces; I do enjoy running really.

Trying to look all badass with my fellow Egdonites. Copyright Beverley Smith

Then it’s race brief time, the Race Director, Andy, starts to give his talk through a loudspeaker that miraculously makes his voice quieter, that is soon abandoned and the obligatory messages of drink, don’t die, angry locals and moved signs etc begin. Also that Bungay Williams would be running his 100th marathon and joining that exclusive club, congratulations sir, an awesome effort!

Race Director Andy Palmer looking resplendent. Copyright Andy Robbins

Then up to the start line where the self-doubt really kicks in. I still get that “who the hell am I to be here, with these real runners?” on any start line, and no, I have no idea what a real runner is. I always tell myself that nerves are good, that it’s focusing the mind and, sometimes, I even believe myself.

Last year the race was started by farm owner, Rupert, dressed as a centurion upon a racehorse and this year was the same, along with a mini-centurion on his mini-steed as well. Best start to a race ever.

How all races should be started. Copyright Elzbieta Remelska

And then the race itself, and maybe a good time to mention the Dorset measurement of “ish”. So the race is “26.2-ish” miles (27.3) and “flat-ish” (1700 ft of acent), so really you are getting more than you paid for. As already mentioned, this race is special for the reasons above, but the route is truly wonderful, the Dorset of my childhood. A nice mixture of woodland trails, paths, corn fields, open fields and the odd bit of tarmac, which can come as a bit of relief for the ankles and hips after the ploughed fields. It really is great for a first time trail runner as it has all the elements, but nothing too technical, and whilst not flat no real brutal hills.

Dorset in July, why wouldn’t you want to run? Copyright Elizabeth Roberts

If truth be told, then man did I found this a hard and tough race, a lot more than I expected it to be. As a “up at dawn runner” I have really never appreciated how that sort of humidity could affect me.By mile 6 it looked as so I had been in a swimming pool for the last hour, totally drenched in sweat. At mile 13 I was genuinely questioning my ability, one of those days where you need to take a good long look inside yourself and see what you have got to give. Thankfully, aid stations were a plenty, and as always well stocked with various sweets, savouries, cakes, crisps, fruit, the melon being especially welcome. WSR pride themselves on providing well stocked aid stations, even offering booze on some of them. All manned by exceptionally competent (as witnessed when one chap came in with a rather messy looking elbow and was tended to with no fuss) and wonderfully encouraging marshals.

Marshals and volunteers make races happen; to me, they’ll always be the heroes of a running event, and a special mention to the road crossing guys – you were stars. We all entrust our safety in the hands of these often complete strangers, I love and respect you all.

Welcome sights around every 3 to 4 miles. Copyright Elizabeth Roberts

If you have ever done a White Star Running event, then you know the Love Station; if you haven’t but have researched it, then no doubt you have heard of it. A truly marvellous idea, situated around the 21 mile mark. We all know about mile 21, it suck’s the big one, it makes you hate running, you want to crawl up into a ball and cry or die, maybe both, you’re never going to run a marathon again blah, blah, blah. So the Love Station sorts you out, it’s an aid station with that lil extra. Need a lie down? then take one, shot of vodka? no problem, a hug? always. The guys will also check you out, make sure you are good to go, we all love the bling but they won’t let you get in trouble trying to get it. Cut-offs are more than generous so always take the time you need.

Love Station, where Goddesses await your arrival. Copyright Elizabeth Roberts

By this point it was all about getting to the Love Station: get there and I can make the finish line. It’s around about this time that Toga Girl enters my life, actually Toga Girl number 1 – Toga Girl number 2 comes later. I have no idea who Toga Girl number 1 is, she appeared, I think, around mile 19 until 25 or so where I lost her again. In fact I have no idea what she looks like, all I really know is that I stared at her feet for 6 miles telling myself all I had to do was copy her movements and that meant I was still going forward, yes I really was struggling that badly. So Toga girl number 1, wherever you may be, thank you.

Not far too go now, back in the last corn field that I remember from last year, and looking at my watch I see I’m at 26.2 miles, whoop another marathon, but no finish line, no medal, no cheering crowds, The Dorset “-ish” remember? I figure there is still over a mile to go, the shuffle continues. Out of the corn field and along a track, you can hear but not see the finish line, you also are running away from it. I know at the end of the track it’s a right turn and then downhill to the glory. Legs now gone, nothing in the tank, I’m walking.

Enter Toga Girl number 2, she runs past me and shouts “Come on, almost there” or words to that effect. So again look at the feet, mimic the feet and that will get me home. And so it does, so Toga Girl number 2, whoever you are, thank you. Finish line crossed, medal awarded and at that point my legs almost went completely.

Finish time of 5 hours, 5 minutes and 42 seconds, so my 2nd slowest marathon. But sometimes it’s the doing what matters.

Me metres from the finish, when getting across the line is all that matters. Copyright Andy Robbins

And time to relax, handshakes from strangers, surveying the broken bodies lying on the grass, listening to the war stories being told, that buzz you get from achieving something hard. Watching and clapping fellow runners as they cross the line, knowing how they feel, congratulating those first-timers whose attitude to life will be that little bit different from now on, as much respect to them as to those in their 100 club vests, new friends made and old acquaintances renewed. This is why I run, maybe this is why we all run.

Now, as I write this, a couple of days have passed since Sunday. Time enough to reflect on whether this is the amazing event I remembered it to be? And yes, it really is, actually better, there is just something that resonates with me in this race, an X factor if you will. As long as Invader happens, it will be my marathon of the year, and as long as it keeps going then I know I will run at least one marathon a year.

So thank you Tory Family and East Farm for hosting us, you were awesome.

And to all those who ran on Sunday, you were all amazing, that was tough going guys, that bling was hard earnt, be proud.

Marshals, volunteers, caterers, well, we just love every single one of you.

To Andy, Kevin, Denise, Ginny, Carolyn and all the other crew, I said the other night  you have created something special, a community, and that is a wonderful thing indeed. Keep being White Star, keep running rural.

Finally my thanks to Andy Robbins, Bev Smith, Elizabeth Roberts and Elzbieta Remelska for the use of their photographs. Permission was given for the use thereof, and copyright remains with each of the photographers.

Invader Col.jpg
Bling of awesomeness. Copyright Jase Hoad

Next up on the race calendar is the Bad Cow marathon weekend, and I hope to see some of you there. Run strong.