It was a day when three Bournemouth AC members at very different ends of the scale came together to compete in one of the most rural and picturesque, yet one of the most challenging and demanding marathons that the south-coast has to offer. It was of course the Purbeck Marathon which, together with the Purbeck 16, formed the agenda for the Purbeck Running Festival.
Just one week after his incredible performance in the 7 Valleys Run 100k back in his native Poland, where Jacek finished in a very commendable 8th place in a highly competitive field, he was back in action.
Although he’d had very little recovery time for such a long and demanding mountain ultra, JC couldn’t resist the lure of a race on his beloved Purbeck and he simply had to give it go.
As for Kirsty Drewett, the furthest she’d ever raced before was a half marathon, so for her it would be a completely new experience. After suffering with a serious foot injury which had meant she’d done virtually no running in the build up for the marathon. There was only one thing for it. She would simply have to wing it.
It wasn’t just for fun that Kirsty was doing it for. She was also raising money for the Forest Holme Hospice Charity in memory of her late partner Ian Darnell, who tragically lost his battle with lung cancer in 2008.
She was determined not to let the charity down or any of the people who had kindly donated money to a cause so close to her heart. Therefore, despite the lack of training she had behind her, she was going to be on that start line and ready to give it everything she’s got.
The other BAC member looking to pit his wits against the impervious hills of the Purbeck was Mark Hillier. Mark specialises in ultra distance races of the more extreme nature. He’s completed the Marathon des Sable, a 7-day, 254km trek across the Sahara Desert that is reputed to be the toughest footrace on Earth.
He’s also complete the Pilgrim Challenge, a two day, 66-mile race staged on the North Downs Way and a double marathon along the South Downs Way, in Race to the King.
With that kind of repertoire, you could be forgiven for thinking that a normal marathon would be a walk in the park for Mark, but a race on the Purbeck never is. The terrain is always testing and always unforgiving. No matter who you are or what experience you have behind you, the Purbeck always provides a challenge.
As one would expect from a marathon on the Purbeck, the course was predominantly off-road and featured 3,000ft of climbing. It’s actually closer to 27 miles that the traditional 26.2 as well, just to add to the challenge.
Starting and finishing in Swanage, it heads toward Durlston Country Park and the Jurassic coast path before going through the villages of Worth Matravers and Kingston. It then heads over to Swyre Head, passing Heavens Gate and along the ridge towards Tyneham Cap.
The route then veers off the coast path and through the desolate village of Tyneham before continuing along the ridge to the Purbeck Hills towards Corfe Castle. After going through the village square it then returns to the hill Ridgeway and heads toward Swanage to finish back on the seafront.
The spectacular views out en route can help combat the feeling of fatigue as the regular ascents and uneven terrain begin to take its toll.
Off the back of his tough 100k adventure, Jacek didn’t really know what to expect going into the race. It went well though and he was feeling surprisingly good considering.
Manoeuvring into an early lead, JC soon began to build up an advantage over his nearest rivals. Jacek is something of an expert when it comes to running on the Purbeck as it’s his favourite training ground. There are very few who can match him on this type of terrain.
At one point in the race he was even thinking that a course record might be a possibility, but an unplanned visit to the bushes and mile 20 and some broken shoelaces on mile 23 put pay to that.
In spite of those mishaps, Jacek had a terrific run, crossing the line well out of sight and out of mind for any of the other competitors. His finishing time was 3 hours and 20 seconds, which may not sound super fast for a marathon but on the undulations of the Purbeck, it’s pretty damn impressive.
It was in last year’s edition of the Purbeck Marathon that Alex van Tuyl of Southampton set a new course record, crossing the line of 2:56:34, toppling Steve Way’s previous landmark of 2:56:52.
Perhaps on another day, without having run 100k mountain ultra the weekend before and with no unplanned stops, Jacek could have a serious tilt at breaking that course record and he’d dearly love to give to go.
Only having been over the 16 mile mark once in the build up to the Purbeck Marathon, Kirsty had no idea what was going to happen and she felt woefully undertrained.
She didn’t really have any particular time in mind that she wanted to complete it by. She was merely hoping to get to that finish line. That would be massive achievement under the circumstances.
Waiting on the start-line, she was anxious to get proceedings underway. She started at the back of the field, which may not have been the best idea since there were long queues for all the styles.
Six miles into the race she glanced at her watch and saw that her heart-rate was higher that what she felt would be sustainable. Her immediate response was to flick the setting onto current pace, so she couldn’t see the time, distance or heart-rate as they were distressing her. She needed to stay calm and relaxed.
As she approached the route switch in Kingston she was gutted to hear the two leaders from the 16 mile race approaching swiftly and had the fight the urge not put in a surge so she could remain unlapped.
On the approach to Tyneham she began to settle down a bit and even started to enjoy herself a bit. This was the only section of the course she was not familiar with. At that point the temperature started to warm up a bit though and Kirsty began to struggle a bit in the heat. That was a battle which would continue right to the end.
Finding it difficult to judge her effort in the second half of the race, Kirsty was able to run up all the climbs but she didn’t know how much energy she needed to save.
The approach to Corfe Castle took an unexpected route for Kirsty and she found it to be a terrifying descent. It took most of the run through Corfe village for her to shake off the panic.
On the final leg back to Swanage she passed Bournemouth AC team captain Rich Nelson for the second time. Rich was out on the course cheering on his BAC teammates and other friends who were competing.
One of the most unexpected challenges for Kirsty was feeling too weak to open many of the gates. With the field very strung out, she found herself often having to climb over them instead, which became rather comical over the last six miles.
The last mile was by far the hottest and the tarmac seemed never ending but amazingly, Kirsty’s legs were still moving quite well. She flipped her watch back to see that she’d already gone over 26 miles but the time was fast approaching the hour.
She was a bit gutted not to have checked 10 minutes earlier so she could have put in a bit extra to sneak under. In the grand scheme of things though, it didn’t matter. She was heading to the finish and was about to complete her first ever marathon and that was a wonderful achievement in itself.
Although the views were stunning, she found herself looking at the floor quite often as she had to watch where she was going. The fact that she’d managed to complete the course was something she couldn’t quite take in.
Crossing the line in a time of 5 hours and 51 seconds, Kirsty finished 73rd overall and was 11th placed lady. She was also 7th in the Female Vet 40 category.
Both the distance and the time on her feet for a first for Kirsty so she had no idea how the fatigue would impact her. She was grateful to have her Dad meeting her at two points on the course with extra fuel and then surprising her at two other points to remind her to drink it.
He absorbed all the abuse he was getting about the heat and still managed to make it to the finish to catch Kirsty as she crossed the line.
It was an outstanding performance from Kirsty. To be able to go in and complete an extremely tough marathon without being able to actively partake in proper training regime beforehand is something of a minor miracle.
It demonstrated a great spirit and will to succeed from Kirsty, whatever the circumstances and will perhaps give her confidence for a future marathon attempt, knowing that with the right training behind her, she could push for a much faster time.
The other Bournemouth AC member in action, Mark Hillier, was accompanying a friend of his in the race. His friend, Mark Kingswell, also has designs on completing some ultras. The Purbeck was his first proper timed marathon event so this one was all about getting him round in one piece.
Mark’s friend coped well and, although he was tired in the last couple of miles, he got round with no injuries and has recovered well since, so for Mark, it was mission accomplished. The pair crossed the line in 132nd 133rd place in 5 hours 39 minutes, putting them 37th and 38th in the Male Vet 40 category.
In February 2019, Mark will be dragging his friend round the Pilgrim’s Challenge course, which is 66 miles split over two days. As for Mark, he takes on the Bournemouth Marathon in a week and a half in what will be his only road marathon of the year.
The target for Mark is under 3 hours 30 minutes, but he’s under no illusions that it’s going to be touch and go. He often tends to go out too quickly in marathons, at a pace that feels comfortable up until he gets to the 17 mile point and then it starts to hurt.
Mark does have some hip flexor and glute issues at the moment that will require monitoring but he did manage a 20 mile run on Sunday which, if he could keep the pace up would see him finish in a time of 3:14. He feels it’s likely that the wheels could come off and the final 6 miles will be a nightmare.
It’s a tough one as his brain is telling him to bank some time in the earlier miles for when he starts to slow in the latter miles but in truth, that tactic is probably not going to work. Perhaps it would be better to stick to a steadier pace for the first half to give himself more chance of maintaining the pace, or potentially even running a negative split.
For April 2019 Mark has a much more hardcore prospect lined up as he has entered The Oner. The Oner is the mother of all ultra trail runs, consisting of 82 miles from Portland to Studland, Poole. It follows an extremely challenging section of the Jurassic coast path with over 10,000ft of ascent.
The course is so brutal, it even scares Mark a bit and he’s done the Marathon des Sables. He has a bit of a mental block when it comes to doing anything over a double marathon in a single hit so this will be a massive challenge for him, both mentally and physically.
With a view to doing to UTMB in a couple of year’s time though, The Oner will be a good test for Mark of how far away he is right now.