As a proud Sheffield boy who cut his teeth running and riding up in the hills of the peak district, I am always a little sceptical of any race that labels itself as extreme, especially when it’s down on the South coast!
With the confidence of many years flogging up the hills of Castleton, Monsel Head etc., I recently rocked up to the Dorset leg of the Coastal Trail Series (CTS) – a 16mile trot by the seaside, so I thought.
One of the funny things I have always found about racing is the chat you hear around the start area before the race starts. It’s like a giant game of Chinese whispers. What has been originally documented as a sustained moderate 1k ascent has suddenly been transformed into a 50 per cent gradient 5mile behemoth guarded by Cerberus! The myth is usually reinforced by an over-exuberant race director who’s briefing begins to sound more like something from Braveheart than a running race. CTS Dorset was no different. Anxious words were being exchanged about hills capable of making grown men cry.
The course is designed in a figure of eight. According to the race director, the first half was ‘just a warm up’ for the second where the hills really start. As I approached the start finish point after completing the first half, I was praying he was joking. After tackling 4 super steep climbs I wasn’t feeling too brilliant. Still, with the knowledge that things aren’t usually as bad as they seem, I soldiered on.
I have never ever been reduced to walking in any race. The second half pushed me ever so close. The hills in the area known as ‘the ranges’ made what I had just done look pitifully easy. Equal steepness (30% and then some) but double or triple as long in some cases. Having dropped the field in the first half, I had to dig incredibly deep to keep going and maintain my lead. No joke everybody, these hills were worthy of the Peak District.
To finish this race is an achievement all in itself. The guys and girls who did the ultra-distance are all heroes in my book. I was elated just to cross the line. Finishing first is always great, but to be pushed so hard simply by the brutality of the terrain is an exceptionally humbling feeling. Very similar to cycling in the Alpes or the Pyranees.
I would highly recommend this race to anyone. CTS do a great job of organising it and it’s an incredibly beautiful area. It certainly breaks the myth that it’s all flat down south.
So, if you happen to be down Dorset way next December, look it up.