2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 04

The Oner is ultra trail run along the South West Coastal Path which is held mid-April each year. The event starts at noon and competitors have 24 hours to cover the 80 miles (including a loop around Portland) finishing at Studland Bay.

I thought a recce of the course was worthwhile to check out the terrain and navigation as it was just a couple of hours drive from my home. Despite, it sounding fairly straightforward to follow a coastline I would be covering half of the route during the evening/night and some familiarisation would be helpful even if its just to spot the odd landmark.

I was joined by Keith Godden for the weekend who is also taking part and we worked out some logistics where we could meet up and leave a car at the start and end of the run. On late Saturday morning we set off from the Race HQ at the Ferry Inn and completed a loop of Portland before returning to the car, topping up our water supplies and heading off for the Lulworth Cove.

2015 Oner Recce Keith Godden 01Keith pictured

For a mid-February date, the weather was pretty good which afforded us some fantastic views of the coastline and we ran and hiked along the coast for a few hours.

2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 02Jogging around Portland

In the early afternoon, we stopped off for an ice-cream at a small café and ended up chatting to a couple of people running the place who spotted Keith’s map and asked where we were going. In a funny coincidence they were also taking part in the Oner and we had a brief chat before continuing our journey, so a quick hello to the Sandstone Racers I think they were called.

2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 07

2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 06

After heading through Weymouth (which I didn’t enjoy so much and much preferred the quieter trails) we started to cover a particularly grotty section which was pretty muddy. It became a little harder going after being on your feet for a few hours but we plodded on.

2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 11The dot in the middle is Keith

There were a few sections where you are pretty close to the edge or there’s a fairly steep descent and so some care will need to be exercised when travelling this section at night. Navigation wise, it wasn’t difficult to follow the general direction but there are a few other footpaths which come off the route so its possible to go off track.

I snapped another few pictures and got a great view of Portland from near Lulworth as the sky was getting dark and the moon was out and you could start to see the lights on Portland.

2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 12View of Portland from Lulworth

We covered the last half an hour in the dark as the sun set. We had both taken the mandatory kit for the practice run so were well equipped with layers, food and head torches and finally arrived at Lulworth Cove where we enjoyed a hot meal at a local pub.

2015 Oner Recce Paul Ali 13

The next day we were joined by Matt Coggins as we set out from Lulworth to recce the leg to Swanage.

Interestingly, a lot of the elevation on this race comes in the last third and we spent a few hours going up and down various slopes along the coast. The weather forecast had suggested heavy rain early afternoon and we had hoped to cover the majority of this section before it really set in but we were armed with waterproofs and extra layers if needed.

2015 Oner Recce Matt Coggines 01

Matt pictured

This next section was another mud-fest in places. I had switched shoes from my Inov8 Race Ultra’s (which are comfy but poor in the mud) to a pair of Inov8 Traiiroc 255 which afforded a bit more grip. However, when the mud is really thick then no shoe is going to help you and there were parts when we were slip sliding all over the place. I also took a nice tumble at one point as I slipped in some mud mid-stride and fell as Matt ran past me trying to stifle his laughter.

We came across one little section where the path appeared to have been re-routed to some landslip and had to do a bit of scrambling up and embankment before we spotted the correct route. It was a proper “hands and knees” effort at that point!

2015 Oner Recce Matt Coggins 02The weather started to turn for the worse

To make matters worse, the wet weather came in a little sooner than expected and the last ten mile section was pretty soul destroying as we were buffeted by a fierce wind and felt the impact of cold stinging rain on your face and legs for a couple of hours. Towards the end of our recce I had four layers of clothing on plus full waterproof cover, waterproof gloves and I still felt cold. It was pretty horrible.. character building stuff as they say.

There were times when the wind was so strong it was pushing you along, thankfully it seemed to be more of a tail wind than head-wind. However, I was getting a little irritated by the sound of the wind rattling the hood of my waterproof after a while.

The upside is that we probably experienced worse conditions than we will in a couple of months time (here’s hoping!) and this has helped me plan a few items of kit as it could be pretty cold at night on an exposed coastal path so some lessons to take note which is exactly the purpose of the recce.

We trudged the last few miles to Swanage and back to our car. It took me a good hour or so to warm up afterwards partly helped by a traditional fish and chip dinner.

The take-away points from the recce include getting a bit more familiarity with the route, a better sense of how my pacing will go on the event (i.e. lots of hiking and not a huge amount of running!), footwear choice will depend on the weather up to the event. If it’s wet, then I will probably wear something with better grip for the second half and I will definitely make sure I take plenty of layers/gloves/hat etc for the night section especially as there’s more elevation, it will be dark, pretty exposed and the pace will slow. I can see lots of people taking poles for the second half of the race. Finally, for navigation purposes I might even dig out my super powered Lenser H14 for some added confidence on spotting the cliff edges during the night.

Thanks to Keith and Matt for the company on the weekend. It was a tiring weekend with the running, hiking and travelling and not much fun on the second day but a useful trip for a training and recce’ing perspective.

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