Stu Nicholas and Geoff Newton at the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Stu Nicholas and Geoff Newton were amongst those ready to get stuck in at the Dorset Ooser

Provoking some excellent results and performances in the past from Bournemouth AC members, the Dorset Ooser event is one that has always appealed to the BAC faithful. Jacek Cieluszecki and Pete Thompson have both won the Marathon in the past and Kirsty Drewett has competed in both the Marathon and the Half Marathon.

At the 2023 serving there were no Bournemouth AC representatives in the Marathon but there were four participating in the Half Marathon. Stu Nicholas was won of them and when he’s in the race, you always know there’s a chance of a BAC win.

Stu had recently been victorious in the very hilly Spring Larmer Half Marathon but had picked up a hamstring injury of some sort just before the Dorset Ooser event so he was unsure what sort of performance he would be able to produce. Mind you, a half-fit Stu is still quicker than the majority of runners out there.

He was joined on the start line by new recruit Zak Preston and over 75 World Masters Indoor Championships superstar Geoff Newton. Geoff competed for Great Britain & Northern Ireland in three separate events at the World Masters Indoor Championships and they were the Cross Country race, which was 6k, the 10km Road Race and the Half Marathon. Impressively, he finished 5th in the Cross County and the 10k and 4th in the Half Marathon.

Also in action at the Dorset Ooser, Graeme Miller and his dog Chester were competing in the Canicross Half Marathon race. The form they were in, they were always going to be major contenders for first place. They had recently recorded wins in a 17km race at the Maverick Hampshire and a New Forest Off-Road 10k, as well as taking 2nd place in the Dog Friendly 10 miler at the Spring Larmer.

The start of the Canicross Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Graeme Miller (434) was competing in the canicross Half Marathon race with his dog Chester

Here’s Geoff Newton‘s gripping first-hand account of the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

This race is part of the Purbeck Trail Series, along with better known races like The Beast and the Studland Stampede. Apparently, the Ooser was the name given to scary wooden masks used in May Day and midwinter gatherings in parts of Dorset in the 18th and 19th centuries. Typically, the masks had a semi-human head with cow horns. I had never heard of them before, but then I am not a native of the county. I don’t think the name does the credibility of the race any favours, but for all that, it is a cracking event if you like trail races which I do. Trail races are more cross country than typical cross-country races, which tend to be runs around school playing fields and the like. Of course, I am biased, now that I old and decrepit, as I finish near the back of field in XC league races and in the first half of the field in most trail races. The race is based at Turners Puddle, a hamlet just south of Bere Regis.

The start of the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

The runners wait on the start line for the race organisers to being proceedings

Zak Preston at the start of the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Zak Preston was one of the four Bournemouth AC men in action

When we gathered at the start, I spied two other runners in the blue and yellow Bournemouth AC vests, Stuart Nicholas and Zak Preston. Zak was in the process recovering from an injury and was strapped up to prove it. He said he would run a steady careful race, so as not to aggravate it and he was true to his word. Stuart did not admit to any aims, but his intentions were soon obvious as he was in the lead from the start.  I lost sight of him after a few hundred metres. Zak drew steadily away from me as we ran from the start by a thatched barn, straight up to the top of Kite Hill.

Stu Nicholas leading the way in the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Stu was straight to the front of the pack

Helen O'Neile in the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Former Bournemouth AC women Helen O’Neile was also in action

Stu Nicholas starting the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Stu had picked up an injury before the race but he was still in it to win it

I did not see Stuart Nicholas again until I had finished. He was sat on a chair looking rather miserable for someone who had just won a race, albeit by the narrowest of margins in the time of 1.34.38; the same as William Crounse, an unattached runner who finished second. Apparently, Stuart had strained or pulled a muscle in the groin or similar (so Zak said) which made his victory a painful close-run affair rather than the fast easy win that it would otherwise have been. Hopefully there will be no long-term ill effects from this problem.

Stu Nicholas heads across the field

Stu was comfortably in the lead for most of the race

Zak Preston heads through the meadow

Zak Preston makes his way through the meadow

Geoff Newton splashing through the bog

The meadow was waterlogged in places as Geoff found out

By the time we reached the top of Kite Hill had been reached a lot of runners had passed me (not as good uphill as I was in my youth) and thereafter it was a matter of picking as many of these off as I could. We then ran along the crest of the hill before descending fairly steeply down to lane running under the A35 dual carriageway and on to some broad undulating farm tracks for a few km to string the field out a bit before the narrow paths later on. I could still see Zak ahead when we crossed the A35 via a footbridge eventually reaching Tolpuddle and a few hundred metres of road, but I lost sight of him soon after. About 800m before the 8km drinks station at Affpuddle we ploughed through about 50m of ankle-deep swamp in the valley of the Piddle. I briefly caught up with Zak at Affpuddle where he stopped for a drink, but that was the last I saw of him before the finish. Zak finished in 47thposition in a time of 2.04.38 and did not significantly aggravate his injuries or if he did he kept quiet about it.

Stu Nicholas leading the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Stu heads through the field at a pace no one else can match

Helen O'Neile splashing through the marsh

Helen splashes through the boggy ground

Zak Preston in the meadow

Zak was recovering from an injury so had his knee strapped up

Geoff Newton heading through the meadow

The wet conditions made it feel like a proper trail race

Soon after Affpuddle we climbed up steeply into Affpuddle Heath and Bryants Puddle Heaths. Here was a long, convoluted section of the race on narrow winding woodland paths and tracks before eventually dropping down to the valley floor and splashing through another 50m of swamp and bridge over the Piddle near Briants Puddle. Some farm tracks followed leading back to the event car park (still a long way to go) which we ran through and up Kite Hill, and the 16km drinks station.

Zak Preston progressing along the path

Zak heads along the muddy path

Geoff Newton heading over the mud

The slippery surfaces brought an extra challenge

Zak Preston heading along the path

Zak was on his way to a 47th place finish

Up until then I had been picking off runners one by one, but by then my feet were becoming very painful and calves stiffening up (both due to old age not injury) and I lost about 6 places (plus or minus 2) during the final 5km. The final 5km were confusing (I cannot relate the google map of the race with OS map). It involved a lot of paths around Black Hill, a descent to a path by a river, an ascent of Black Hill, before eventually reaching Kite Hill and a descent of the hill we climbed at the start, finally finishing next to the thatched barn. I finished in 73rdposition of 274 finishers in 2.12.08. There were no age group awards to go for, or even age classifications in the results, but this is not unusual for trail races. Obviously, it’s not a course for PB’s. I have not mentioned the numerous stiles and kissing gates to slow one down in addition to the numerous hills and the two swamps. But it is good fun and makes a change from yet another Sunday morning training run along Bournemouth Seafront.

Zak Preston in action at the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Zak was running well despite the tricky conditions

Geoff Newton heads down the path

Geoff was on his way to a 73rd place finish

Zak giving it all he's got

Zak completed the course in 2:04:38

At the finish there was a free cake and choice of free drinks in addition to the usual bottle of water. I don’t really approve of giving finishers medals regardless of time taken but I must admit the medal they gave us here was quite impressive. There was also a less well supported marathon race held in conjunction with the half marathon and Canicross races were held over both distances.

Graeme Miller gets going in the Canicross Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

Graeme and Chester always tend to start races aggressively

Bournemouth AC also provided the winner in the Half Marathon Canicross in the shape of Graeme Miller and his dog Chester in 1.33.46. There were 38 finishers. Canicross competitors started behind the unaccompanied runners. I am not sure whether there was a separate start time or not, but Graeme and Chester came past me at an impressive pace after about 3km already well clear of the pursuing canicross competitors. A well-trained fit dog can actually pull a runner along faster than he would otherwise go without a dog. Another six canicross competitors passed me although I temporarily caught one when the dog called for a break.

Geoff Newton

Graeme Miller gives chase in the Canicross Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

It was Chester’s first ever half marathon race

The Dorset Ooser was actually Chester’s first ever half marathon and he did amazingly well and was super strong and focused. It’s good for Chester to have something to chase so when they start the canicross races behind the main field it works out well. There are lots of runners ahead to chase down, even if they are the front runners in the canicross race.

Graeme and Chester head down the track in the Canicross race

Graeme and Chester had the speed and the strength to excel

Graeme and Chester spent the first eight miles overtaking runners from the main field in the Half Marathon race. After that they didn’t see anyone for four miles. There were seven stiles to get over which can pose a problem when you have a dog with you.

Graeme Miller and Chester head across the field

Graeme and Chester blew all the other canicross contenders away

The race had a sting in the tail, with a very steep hill near the end. That was the only time Chester was reduced to walking pace. Graeme and Chester finished 15 minutes ahead of their nearest canicross rivals. They were Poole Runners man Rupert Tory and his dog Wispa.

Graeme Miller and Chester racing hard

Graeme and Chester were well clear of the rest of the field in the Canicross race

Jon Fine did okay, finishing 3rd with his dog Ralph in 1:50:26. Hannah Ridout took 4th place and was 1st female, completing the course in 1:56:15.

The course came up long, with Graeme covering 13.66 miles in the end, putting his average pace at 6:52 minutes per mile. Not bad for a route incorporating 1,298 ft of elevation.

Graeme Miller and Chester in the Canicross Half Marathon

Graeme’s pace was impressive given that it was such a hilly course

As for the Half Marathon for runners without a dog, Stu concedes that with hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have done it. Managing to get to mile 10 in relative discomfort, he then had to hobble home for what seems like the longest 5km.

He’d been way out in front for the entire race though and thought he had loads of time in the bank. Then suddenly he heard some footsteps in the gravel behind. At that point, he had to put the hammer down and muster up a sprint finish! He got the win but could barely walk afterwards! The post race cake made him feel a bit better though!

Zak Preston heads along the muddy track

Zak didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects from his injury

Sam Davis who claimed 3rd place was 40 seconds back, finishing in 1:35:18 and Littledown Harriers man Mark Packer finished 4th in 1:38:16.

Jenny Lee Marshall of Purbeck Runners finished as 1st female in 1:43:14 which put her 12th overall, ahead of former Bournemouth AC member Helen O’Neile who now represents Poole Runners. She got round in 1:46:40 putting her 15th overall.

Zake Preston approaches a waterlogged section

Zak was prepared to tackle anything the race threw his way

There were no Bournemouth AC members featuring in the Marathon race this time round. Jack Oates made it look so simple, gliding round the course in 3 hours 12 minutes and 46 seconds. That was over 11 minutes quicker than anyone else. His nearest rival, George Goodall got to the line in 3:24:09, with Robert Welman taking third in 3:27:09.

Beth Ingham finished fifth and was first female, making it round in 3:37:40.

Zak Preston gives the thumbs up

Zak gives the thumbs up to signal that he’s going okay

Graeme and Chester will be back in action next weekend at a trail event in Houghton, which is between Salisbury and Winchester. The race will be 11km, with part of the course being along the Clarendon Way.

Then at the end of the month they’ll be heading up to Glamis Castle in Scotland for the final leg of the Fur Nations series. In that, the runners and their dogs compete in three races over three days to win points for their countries. It’s England vs Wales vs Scotland and there are three separate events in the series.

Graeme Miller and Chester after the Dorset Ooser Half Marathon

There will be plenty more medals to earn for Graeme and Chester and probably more prizes too

The first event of the series was in Pembrey, Wales, and that consisted of two 5k races and then a two mile beach race on the third day. Graeme finished 2nd in the V50 category and 4th overall.

The second event was held in Cannock Chase over a very wet and muddy course. Graeme took a heavy tumble whilst overtaking another runner on the second day there before taking on a 10k on the third day. He did well in a very competitive field to finish 2nd overall and 1st V50 there, setting him up nicely for the final event of the series.

Finishing 1st at Bournemouth parkrun in the lashing rain with a time of 17:16, there are signs that Stu is beginning to get over his injury. It’s now just a case of regaining his match sharpness ahead of the Alton 10 race this coming weekend. That will be the next fixture in the Hampshire Road Race League so a crucial one for Bournemouth AC as they continue their promotion push.

Many thanks to Dorsetbays for the fabulous photos.