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This was my fourth time of running The Stickler – an off-road 10.1 mile race taking in the three highest peaks in Dorset; Beacon Hill, The Hod and Hambledon Hill. The first year I did this, I’d only been running for a short time and it quite literally knocked the breath out of me! Organised by Dorset Doddlers, it begins in the village of Shillingstone.
Being off-road and slightly over 10 miles, there is little to compare results from this race to, other than performances from previous years. It’s not an out and out, flat 10 miles therefore the enjoyment comes not from the time or result, but from the running of the actual race… Amazing views of English valleys and huge feelings of satisfaction after climbing monstrous hills!
The day was perfect for running; a slight chill in the air a very slight breeze and bright blue sunshine.
After collecting numbers and dumping jumpers at the registration hall, we (my dad and wife were also running) were shepherded across a main road towards the start line.
After a quick countdown, we were off!
The first 0.6 of a mile eases you into the race as an undulating lane carries you forth to the bottom of Mount Dorset, otherwise known as Beacon Hill (cos it has a huge beacon on the top of it). This is a bit of a shock to the system as the hill gets steeper and steeper, with many runners choosing to conserve energy by walking. I’ve done a lot of hill training though; I can’t run more than 400 metres in any direction from my house without hitting some kind of hill, so managed to trundle up at a steady jog.
It sounds obvious but I decided before-hand that the key to doing well in this race is to run up as many of the hills as possible, revert immediately to goal pace once at the top, run the flats at a pace that felt like an effort and bomb it down any down hills!
So as soon as I reached the top, even though all I wanted to do was collapse and have a breather, I forced myself to pick up the pace and continue onwards!
The next 2.5 miles were generally downhill, along winding gravel tracks through forest, with a few little uphill sections just to keep you paying attention.
The track then becomes a lane with a steep downhill, before you’re flung out in a sharp right on to a footpath of the main road. There were several marshals at this point as we had to cross the road. I’d suggest that they just shout at runners “STOP!” or “GO!” The marshal tried to engage me in a full conversation about the various merits of my stopping at this stage to let some cars go. However, with my race head on I heard none of this, looked up to see one of the waiting cars signalling me to cross and so ran across the road. I heard the marshal screaming at the car driver that he’d told them to go…
And carried on along a pleasant flat part of the race, past a quaint river and mill, following another group of runners who were slightly ahead of me up the beginnings of a hill… That group of runners disappeared around a corner but then 20 seconds later appeared again running back towards me – we’d all missed an unmarked turn over a stile, but managed to find our way back on to the main route. I think quite a few other runners made this error too…
This was then the second of the ‘three peaks’ – Hod Hill. A rocky, muddy path, strewn with tree roots. Again, a number of runners chose to walk this part however I found it harder to stop and start, than to carry resolutely on.
At the top of this hill are fantastic views out across rolling hills, however my eyes were focusses on the ground 10 metres ahead as I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Then a nice downhill slip and slide… before the monster that is Hambledon Hill. This, to me, is unrunnable although I hear that the front runners do jog it – wow. I could barely walk it.
Once at the top of this, the final peak, there’s a mile of downhill running before what I often find the hardest bit – a flat, mile long stretch towards the finish line. At this stage if you want to keep your placing, you have to up the pace and after all those hills, that’s hard.
The race then finishes at a quaint old railway station with a sprint down the platform to cross the line.
Then to the pub for steak… mmmmm.
Distance: 10.1 miles
Elevation gain: 1533ft