Portland Coastal Marathon – the Rerunning
This blog will be a little different than normal as we found ourselves travelling this weekend to Portland, a place that is a little different than normal; a place lost in time that definitely does not have any of the features Booking.com thinks it does, unless the people watching is more of an anthropological study of the potential missing link in evolutionary history.
Now, I had been there before in 2017 and had been the last runner to successfully complete the race within cut off. And somehow, despite saying how terrible it was in my blog, JK, Clare and Bazza Norman did it the following year, hating it equally as much as I did and just about making the cut off too. So how did this come about? How does the same smeg happen to the same guy twice? Actually, we don’t really know. It would hardly be out of character that (drunk) JK and I signed up again, and embroiled Lewis and Keith in our insane quest. But then I was signed up for the Barcelona Half that weekend too, and had planned to run that with Baz Tav. So God knows what transpired. All I know is that we went there, ran and somehow came back.
A POX ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES. (Yeah, probably)
Lew and I travelled from Paddington by train in the morning, changing at Westbury. The more direct route from Waterloo was plagued, as are most weekend journeys in the UK, by those three words that can turn a family outing into National Lampoons Vacation meets Lord of the Flies: “REPLACEMENT BUS SERVICE”. I do not travel by bus because we would quickly be visited by Colonel Chunder and the Carrot Brigade and Lew wasn’t keen either so we went from Padders.
Fat chewed for a few hours we arrived in Weymouth, the last bastion of civilisation before you cross the divide between reality and a quasi-League of Gentleman meets Alf Garnett and Emmerdale Farm circa 1972 pastiche and all seemed well. We hailed a cab (Bab’s Cabs pre-op) and then it started.
Lew was itching to ask the driver (let’s call him Obadiah) why we couldn’t mention rabbits on Portland. They are taboo and I covered this in my blog from 2017. Despite me telling him that the movie The Wicker Man made Portland look progressive Lew still wanted to ask the driver. I could see he was itching to find out but thought better of it when the man confessed that he was from Portland, Man and Boy (man by day, boy by moonlight whilst running naked wearing a goat mask in the fields of his home). I could tell this in the way that he kept one eye fixed on the road ahead, whilst surveying the two of us suspiciously with the other Mad-Eye Moody style. But I will give him this, he had the 1980s music channel on the radio, or modern noise as they call it, which had some good tunes, and he let me off the fare to my B&B after dropping off Lewis at his “hotel”. Hotel very much in inverted commas.
My B&B was actually quite nice. A little further up the archipelago, beyond two pubs that didn’t shut, and a chippy (closed), stuff of nightmares doll shop (WTH!), and a non-ethnically specific restaurant that never parted the greying lace curtains the whole time I was there. My landlady was very nice, as it happened, had called me to confirm check-in time the day before, and led me to my room, with its four poster bed, gold rimmed powder blue Royal Doulton tea cups and immaculate shower room. She asked me if I wanted dinner, I said I had plans to meet my friends at their pub/hostelry and she asked me if I was planning to get drunk (as she was). I said probably not and she let me leave and head back to see how the others were doing.
At this point I would like to add that Lewis and I were to be joined by the stalwart JK, poster boy for RTTT and Berlin. He was staying at the same “hotel” as Lewis, sharing a communal bathroom, and thus turning the sink in the bedroom into a toilet. Keith would drive down the next morning before the race as he was local(ish). As the evening progressed we would get intermittent comms from JK regarding his status. When I walked into Lew’s pub at around half 3 to find him propping up the bar with a Guinness half sunk this was…
JK ETA – UNKNOWN – WHEREABOUTS? SOMEWHERE BETWEEN LONDON AND BATH
It would be incredibly un-PC of me to say that I started the evening with a pint of Wife Beater, but sadly, it would be so tame in comparison to what followed that I am going to leave it in the blog just to illustrate why.
Within moments of putting my coat down and taking a seat, before I could describe the relative Shangri-la of my abode for the night to Lew, a filthy looking old man pushing a mobility stroller containing a ratty Jack Russell puppy in the basket came towards us. I looked at the dog. It was licking what looked like an old yellow sock that turned out of be a piece of cheese on toast from the previous day. He introduced himself as a Bill, the old man, not the dog, and apparently he had been put in the hotel by the local social services after being discharged from prison for trying to break into his ex-wife’s house because “it’s full of me stuff”. Of course, he did not tell us this straight away, first we had the expletive filled detail of his incarceration at one prison after a court appearance, another court appearance, a second prison, a further court appearance, and finally enough of a stint at the pub/hotel we now stood in to already appear in one of the Booking.com reviews. (I am guessing Bill will make a guest appearance in Lewis’ review when he gets around to it).
Oh Catherine, you don’t know the half of it. “So much swearing and sexualised language from one of the male guests.” Let me tell you a tale.
Bill was on a loop. (Imagine Joss Ackland playing Fagan at the Lyceum).
Bill: I am Bill. And I am EFFING 65 years old and I have got (thinks about it) 5 kids and 10 grandkids. Me: One more and you can have a cricket team. Bill: EFFING football team more like. Where are you from? Me: We’re from London. Well, I’m from London. Lew is from Hertfordshire. Bill: Ooh, la-di-EFFING da. Posh SLUR. I support QPR. (Shows callused old green tattoo). Ah, say I, Lew is a Tottenham fan. Bill: (Moving in so close that I could smell his brown teeth) An EFFING ANTI-SEMITIC SLUR? Me: (Deciding not to mention I am EFFING one myself) Quite. Bill: ‘Ow old are you? Me: We’re both 46. Bill: EFF off! Him? You?Me: Yeah. It’s our baby faces. Bill: ‘Ere, I was in prison with two young RACIAL SLURS, what do you call EFFING VERY OLD RACIAL SLUR nowadays? Lew: By their name. Bill: REALLY OLD RACIAL SLUR? Us: No. Lew looks to go for a smoke and Bill decides to tag along. Bill: I’m not an EFFING ponce. Can I have a fag? And then they are gone.
I take the couch by the open fire, am told that I need to keep it going by putting pallet wood (No scented birch logs here) from a pile on it, and then try to watch the Italy game. Upon his return Lew gets us a second pint and Bill decides to sit next to me. Very close to me. Personal space invasion is not an issue for Portland Bill. Bill: I’m from London. Me: Yes, me too. Bill: Whereabouts? Me: Hampstead. But I have lived in Islington and Farringdon, and was brought up in Kensington. Bill: Do you know EFFING Spandau Ballet? Me: I’m not into classical music. (Pause) Of course I am. Bill: Not the EFFING SEXUALISED SLURS, the twins. EFFING SLURS. The lead singer. What’s ‘is EFFING name? Me: Tony Hadley? Bill: I was a removal man in London. I lived in Wimbledon. Where do you live in London? Me: Hampstead. Bill: Do you know Millionaires Row? Me: Bishops Avenue? (Although I could have said anything) Bill: Yes. Me and my crew moved him from this little two up two down to this five bedroom mansion. We loaded up the truck and you know what he did? Me: Um. Bill: We took 5 days to do the job. (My brain: To move the contents of a 2 up 2 down? And only 5 bedrooms for the singer on 8 top 10 albums?). And at the end he gave me three EFFING envelopes. One for me. Bill he said, this is for you. And one for…. Um… Steve. And one for…. Um…. Um… (making up a name) Browny. And you know what was in it? A hundred pounds. A hundred EFFING pounds. Me: Very generous. (Sighing a sigh of relief, believing he had finished) Bill: I was a long distance lorry driver after that.
JK ETA – UNKNOWN – WHEREABOUTS? SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BATH AND WEYMOUTH
Bill continued by listing countries from mainland Europe where he had apparently driven, and then how he had come home to Wimbledon to find his EFFING best friend in bed with his EFFING SEXUAL SLUR wife. He apparently knocked the guy out over the bed. And then a comedy scene right of Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em happened with the bed falling on the guy, then a chest of drawers then (I paused with anticipation) yes, the wardrobe. EFFING SEXUAL SLUR wife threatened, EFFING friend threatened, EFFING SEXUAL SLUR wife back with him but not the same since. Basically they were just EFFING. 3 kids. Kids not seen him for 23 years but then got in touch. He then needed a “PISS” and got up to wheel away, after creating aspersions about the landlord’s sexuality, the reputation of a local from whom he had stolen cigarettes, the barmaid, and pretty much the rest of western civilisation.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
I saw my chance and ordered a 3rd pint for me and Lew. With Bill unable to stand for long, I challenged Lew to a lengthy game of pool. And thus we escaped, kinda. As we played a couple came in and sat by the fire. Within minutes we hear “I’m Bill and I’m EFFING 65. What’s your name? Where you from? Wales? An EFFING SHEEP RELATED RACIAL SLUR? ‘Ere, do you know Spandau Ballet?”
JK ETA – UNKNOWN
We ordered food, got a 4th pint in and sat away from the rest. The food was pretty good really, well, hot. A couple of road workers came in in their neon. Poor guys looked like they had spent a day in the elements. It wasn’t long before…. My names Bill and I’m EFFING 65. What’s your name? Where you from? Manchester? EFFING SLUR. London? Whereabouts? EFFING. EFFING. EFFING! I’m not a ponce. Can I have a fag?”
Me to Lew: I wonder when he goes to bed.
Local from the bar: He doesn’t. Not until closing.
Me/Lew: Let’s find another pub.
I do exclude more unpleasantness. He did offend everyone in the room at one point from the EFFING RACIAL SLUR Irish barmaid, the EFFING RACIAL SLUR Welshman, the road worker from Manchester who was a hair’s breadth from thumping him, the other from Norwich, the floral shirted landlord, and a few others. And my favourite Bill line? Don’t EFFING call me ethnic.
He walked around with a button. It was a BULLSHIT button that had a mini speaker in that played BULLSHIT in numerous ways. He went from person to person pressing it over and over again until he came to us and winked and said he was only having an EFFING laugh. I gave him a death stare, he wheeled away, and Lew and I went to the pub 5 doors down.
It was pretty much here that JK enters the scene. We were 5 hours into a pre-marathon drinking session, Star Wars was on, the again on +1, we had GUINNESS, Stella and a table by the dart board, a pool table, and a jukebox of 1990s indie hits on permanent Oasis loop. The pub was sausage heavy and felt a little Blue Oyster-esque, well the Portland equivalent of the Blue Oyster bar, so more Sea Shanty than the tango. Still, it had one resoundingly great quality for the next 3 hours. It had no EFFING Bill.
I woke early. I had asked my landlady for a FEB (full English breakfast) to be ready at 7.30am but, when I woke at 7, was in no mood for food. The drinking had gone on and my insides were one runny egg mouthful away from being my outsides and so I skipped breakfast and headed out into the howling wind. I walked down the hill and toward the Yacht club that housed the race HQ. I met up with the boys at a windswept path that edged the water at sea level, as Storm Erik whistled through the rigging of the sail boats around, and it all starting flooding back to me. “I had blocked most of this out,” I admitted, as we started up the ramp. And I kinda wish it had stayed that way.
Enter Keith, stage left, wearing rabbit ears and a cotton tail. And no, I am not joking. It took a matter of moments for the RD to point out that it was likely that he was going to be shot by the locals.
In addition we found out that we were not allowed hiking poles, or cheating sticks as they have come to be known, and that this year, unlike others, we would have actual signs to point the way. The way being exactly the same as the previous years as below:
How I did?
I started strong and was off like the wind around the only bit I know I liked from last time, the 500 yards around the boat yard, up and around a roundabout, along a short road and then up to the bottom of the hill from Hell. I waited in the underpass as everyone arrived, looked up, groaned, and then started the long trek up. The boys joined me and I followed them as we hit the road at half way, then the other pausing points and my post-Pilgrims body was aching already. I hit the top, a sort of desolate concrete and muddy area and the boys were already out of sight. THANK GOD! I love them to bits, but I was in no state to run with them. I would be holding them up. And this is not the kind of race to be out there longer than you need to be.
And so, it all started to come back to me. I hated the race in 2017 but at least I only had myself to worry about then. I could plod around as slowly as I wanted and then get a cab to Weymouth and train home. With the boys out there, and Keith giving us a lift part of the way home, I had that extra concern. I could run it again in 6 hours, but did I want to? Need to? Especially when it could break me post-Pilgrims and pre-GMU.
It was pretty much then, early into the second swamp-like path, as the guy ahead of me took the kind of dive into a muddy puddle that should get you 8.5 for style points for approach, execution and entry, that I remembered I did not have anything to prove. I put in my headphones, as music was allowed, and dug in, with the aim of just completing the half.
Music is a good way of drowning out the pain and anguish, the suffering of the sideways freezing wind and icy sea spray hitting your face like hail stones as you try to stay upright. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five seemed very apt at the top of the cliffs “don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge” etc. I have 2 ipods. The mini I use for Ultras and has podcasts, audiobooks and plays, a 10K PB list of dance tracks for a flourishing finish, and 50 Cadences of the US Military to get me through. The shuffle has a very eclectic playlist from Qemists to Queen, ABC to Iron Maiden, Chase and Status to Foreigner, and it kept me going until a marshal caught up with me and told me I shouldn’t have music in. And I remember the guy from 2017, I remember his dismissive, monotone voice. He had been the marshal who told me to take out my earphones then too, although he was at a CP and not running. EFFING SEXUALISED SLUR! And so I rounded Portland Bill, turning over my ankle and limping up the hellish slow climb, before finally enjoying the shortest bit of road with a couple of runners who would not make the cut off in the end, a church, and then the mudslide down to everyone’s least favourite part of the race, the causeway.
Forget the hills, the puddles, the cliffs, the wet rock and stone steps, the wind, the barbed wire, and the endless mud, the EFFING worst part of the race is the long there and back along the causeway, a dead flat, 3 mile, there and back, then there and back again, straight as an arrow sea level road. It is HELL.
You chose your footwear according to the race, the conditions and so, with so many people focusing on the mud and trails, you wear your chunkiest, hard soled trail shoes. Everyone does. And when you do, when you get to the Causeway, you regret it. Your feet get beaten up as you look way into the distance, looking for the underpass where you cross to the other side of the road and head back to the yacht club that was the start, is the turnaround for the marathon, and the finish for all. As you do though, you are hit from all angles by the swirling wind. Only 45 mile per hour gusts this particular day, so it could be worse.
The ONLY good thing about the Causeway, is that it brings the field back together again. After so many twists and turns as you circumnavigated the perimeter of the isle, you lose sight and therefore track of everyone. I hadn’t seen the boys since the first hill, 500 yards from the start, but there was Keith heading to the midway point. Thinking I was 5 or more miles behind them I ended up only 10 mins after him at the turn, and was even closer to JK and Lew, and this was after slowing down to gleefully walk a chunk as I had decided to stick rather than twist at 13 miles. BOSH! Job done. 13 miles of the most unpleasant race I’d ever done. I swore I would never come back, and I will swear that again.
How They Did?
I made the finish in 2.58. This was after stopping at the turn, having my photo taken and talking to the marshals. So knock a few minutes off that. The boys were only 10 minutes ahead of me and so really had to go great guns to get back around in pretty much even splits.
But the thing about my boys, and the thing about most of my running friends, is that I have utmost faith in them. I slowly got ready and showered, changed, and ate (finally), in the café upstairs at the yacht club with one eye on the clock. I went out from time to time to see if they had had a spurt and came in ahead of my estimate. The sun had come out but the wind was cruel.
The official 92 finishers of the marathon kept trickling in, with the winner belting around in 3:15, and I was ready for the boys to be home. A guy in a Le Tissier top came through. The lady I had spoken to about Comrades back in 2017 at the Heights. And then the boys came in. I had gone out to take their photo and there they were, making the final turn in unison and crossing the line in 5:48, 23 minutes ahead of my 2017 time and 20 ahead of JK and Clare’s from last year. I couldn’t be more proud.
It is the same as every year and shows the isle, with the 10K, half and full finishers getting the same medal and buff, and tee.
I got the boys a nice hot coffee, with ALL the sugar, Keith showered as the others changed and started to defrost and with that, we were gone and were driving to Eastleigh via a Co-op (booze) putting the world to rights, agreeing on the wonders of Transvision Vamp lead singer Wendy James and deciding when Felicity Kendall finally reached an age where she was no longer EFFABLE.
I did swear that I would never return having completed this marathon solo in 2017. It was a horrible challenge that I did not want to repeat, but then others read my blog and did it. And this year that was repeated again. For me the biggest issue was that this was too close to Pilgrims and 33 miles on the frozen NDW. 7 days is not long enough for me to recover and so, when I realised I didn’t have anything to prove and could just bail at the half, I was ok with that. I have no regrets. I had to drop down distances but this wasn’t a summer 10K around a flat London park, so there is no shame in that. Nothing about this was nice. As it was a dozen people came in after me for the half, and several marathon finishers came in after my 2017 time (the cut off clearly being relaxed a little). I won’t do it again. JK, or maybe it was Keith, did state though that “Darren is for Portland Coastal, what Ira is for Green Man.” Like EFF am I?
The Boy’s reviews are all on Racecheck.com and Lewis’ review of his hotel is on Booking.com.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE PORTLAND COASTAL? If you want the challenge
WOULD I RUN THE PORTLAND COASTAL AGAIN? NO
And so after Pilgrims and Portland I am gonna take it easy, right?