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Dorset Invader Marathon – Winterbourne Whitechurch – 18 July 2015

Phil Whitehust reports

The Dorset Invader Marathon is the latest addition to the growing White Star running calendar of events. It’s an off-road Roman themed running romp around the rather attractive Dorset countryside between Bere Regis and Dorchester.

I arrived at East farm in Winterborne Whitechurch around 8am, to a scene of runners dressed in togas and centurion costumes, and an enormous gantry made of straw bales!

32 Phil Whitehurst 04:12:44
106 Charlotte House 04:56:02
167 Claire Scammell 05:35:06
Meeting up with WACers Charlotte House (marathon), Kelly Williams, Rachel Gladdis and Sarah Orr (half marathoners), we picked up our numbers and milled around in the thankfully cool morning air. Claire Scammel then arrived as our other WAC marathon regular “customer”.

The marathon soon got underway with a Centurion on horseback (why not?). We quickly got onto a hilly climb shortly after the start, then onto some corn fields, before crossing a road to some thankfully sheltered forest tracks, as the temperature was starting to rapidly rise in the blue July sky.

It was here I lost Charlotte House as the marshals stopped her at the road crossing.

Continuing along bridleways and down the edges of fields for a while, the going was pretty good, until we came to the forest section with long stretches of narrow path with aggressive vegetation. Nettles, brambles, green stuff and shoots of all kinds to crash through. All great fun until a tree root grabbed my ankle and took me down. Dusting myself off, I quickly caught up with more runners and over the next few miles, steadily overtook some of the field.

Love station time at mile 9! Lots of sweeties and sweet coca cola. A White Star running speciality of melon slices and a bit of cake. Then plunge on through Winterborne Kingston, heading towards the A35 over some mighty undulating scenery. Although pretty hilly (1500ft climb total), this race was quite runnable, and I didn’t break into a walk at any point (unlike the Giant’s Head…).

The turnaround point was the track alongside the A35, with another nice big hill to climb before descending to a very welcome 16 mile water station. This was followed by another steep climb, and along some very attractive fields of barley, until we reached a road section at 17miles. I was told at this point that I was 25 mins behind the leaders. Wow! I must be motoring I thought….!

The road was pretty straight, and went over a couple of bridges and past some farms until we broke left on a bridal path. It was from now on that I encountered more and more runners broken by the heat and terrain. (It had been getting pretty toasty for the last 5 miles as there were no clouds and no shade!) This section also had a lot of pure white chalk paths that relentlessly beat the sun’s rays back at you, which seemed to be killing off the “competition”.

Somehow, I seemed to be feeling fine though – although hot, it wasn’t affecting me too badly, so I carried on at a good pace, enjoying the overtaking manoeuvers and picking up places as I went.

Back to the love station! Because it’s a bow-tie shaped course, we had the special treat water station twice on this course. A few cokes, some melon and lots of water and jellies. I avoided the alcohol this time, as although the cranberry schnapps looked amazing, I thought it might be one step too far in this heat.

I might have been a little affected by the heat at this point, as I made to run off from the love station in the wrong direction! Fortunately a marshal spotted me and corrected my mistake before it was too late.

I then had some more bridlepaths to run before a long “thrash” through an overgrown path for a couple of miles. I stopped to catch my breath and look around as I thought maybe I’d gone wrong as I seemed to be totally on my own now. But no, I saw another runner maybe a quarter mile behind, so I carried on until finally seeing the familiar White Star arrow on a tree ahead. Turning left here, the woodland vegetation had been kindly strimmed by someone, and I quickly found myself back on the woodland trail where I tripped a couple of hours before.

Then it was back the way we came, I was overtaking quite a few half marathon stragglers as I approached the extra mile around a barley field just before the finish (as I was now nearing 26.5 miles, I was reasonably confident the finish was in sight), a fast downhill through some woods before the finishers’ field, sprint for the finish past some more slowing runners, then through the hay bales to the biggest and most impressive medal I have ever seen.

I finished the tough course in 4:12, which was 32nd place out of around 260 runner. I was reasonably confident I should be able to better that in future, as the course was very runnable and a pure joy with some amazing Dorset countryside along the way. I heartily recommend this one to any trail marathoners out there and even those who don’t do the trails. This would be a great first one to try, as it was not as hard-core as others I’ve done. Some excellent signage and quotes from films such as ‘Life of Brian’ certainly made the experience memorable along with the superb organisation and energy of the White Star team.

I’ll just have to wait until ’Larmer Tree’ next year before the next White Star event I can do. I would definitely recommend any of their events as a great fun thing to do outside of the ‘serious’ marathon season. Get your entry in now!  


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