Tuesday, 25 September 2012

White Cliffs Challenge - Race Report

Getting to run...the wrong way?
What a challenge!

I originally planned to do this event a good few months ago and had thought at first I would do it by myself, in retrospect I am glad I teamed up with my ultrarunning buddy George.

We were under no illusion that this was going to be a toughy, this was an event that was designed for walkers, by walkers. The LDWA members are a lovely group of people with an assortment of people ranging from the wonderfully eccentric to a really interesting and experienced people from all areas of life and  runners are guests at these challenges.


Yes Dear Reader, you heard the dreaded T word! Indeed George and I had some preliminary discussions as to how to approach this challenge and it was generally agreed that we split it into three sections.

  1. Section 1 - The Cliffs and out to ~17 miles
  2. Section 2 - The Middle 
  3. Section 3 - Night time
Prior to the start there was the usual flurry of activity of catching up with old trail friends, signing in, checking the map of the route and for me to crack my head on the edge of George's car boot....yes you heard it, crack my head! George had opened the boot and at the same time I leaned down to pick up some kit...ouch that hurt.

Section 1

This section was arbitrarily  broken down into one that took us to Check Point 3 at 22 miles but our speed was controlled by the opening of the 2 check points preceding it. 

I joked in an earlier post that we should be ware of the cliffs but it was now obvious that this was not to be laughed at as this section and the ones to follow were at some points only feet away from a 300 foot (100 metre ) sheer drop. Quickly learning that you do not take these paths at pace we dropped to a careful one along well trodden rabbit tracks

Check point 1 was only 8.3 miles into the run and on a normal day, on a normal road it could be knocked out in about 70 minutes but this was no normal run so we planned to cruise it and use the full 105 minutes to get to the opening (rules are you must pass and get your card clipped). So we dropped to a very slow tick over pace, walked the slopes, jogged the flats and a well practised one arriving exactly at the opening time  grabbed biscuits, orange cordial, filled our bottle and strolled on.

The Kent LDWA had taken great effort in planning this route and adding interesting comments to the route guide about monuments, through National Trust beauty spots and for some time had the opportunity to view the ships coming in and out of the ports below.

Shakespeare's Cliff
After about 20 miles, after passing the Immigration Removal Centre we were met by this monster of a cliff...Shakespeare's Cliff  which is described in King Lear - Act 4 Scene 1:

There is a cliff, whose high and bending head 

Looks fearfully in the confined deep: 
Bring me but to the very brim of it, 
And I'll repair the misery thou dost bear 
With something rich about me: from that place 
I shall no leading need. 

Deep words but when you start the ascent there is this amazing feeling that you are the first to climb it.

Section 2

From about 22 miles we began to say goodbye to the sea and slowly but surely moved inland and the ground began to undulate instead of shear climbs. It is here that George and I pulled up our laces and began to get a good pace behind us chewing the miles up in a reasonably good pace interspersed with the occasional power walk if we took on a steep ascent both very positive with the occasional stop to watch the view. At one point we even stopped for a ice lolly when we heard an ice cream van behind us. It was these types of little moment that is good for the morale which soon allowed us to carry on running through. This was short lived when we soon began to realise the day was ending and night was soon to draw in. Grabbing the torches from our bags we refused to be slowed so carried on wishing that the check points were not there as we could carry on the pace but mindful that we needed food and water where possible.

Section 3

The night section was here we were now 43 miles in and I had just celebrated by 10,000th mile since I started running again, we were fed hot dogs and soup, we were raring to go but the extra darkness away from towns, our lack of knowledge of the course and the now rough terrain brought us down just to a speed walk as we would be foolish to run unless on the roads. Now we were getting tired and I was finding it hard to read instructions which now became quite complicated requiring bearings, following overhead cables (at night!) and finding a path through a fields of 15 foot high maize, surreal is not the word.

Moral was getting a little low when we had to walk along the edge of a field for a mile, go through a gap in the hedge and carry on for another half mile, never has a gate been so welcome just to give a break from the monotony. Ever so often there would be a call to run and we would take the opportunity but the early stages of the race had taken its toll but we both agreed that this was a walking event which generally start later on in the day and had it been earlier we could have eaten up the miles.

The Finish

I can safely say this was the worst part of the challenge as the instructions directed you through the roads and alleys of Deal, Kent. It was obvious that tiredness was setting in but by now all we wanted to do was get to the end and was with a cry of frustration I thought we had gone wrong but the level headed George spotted the road we were looking for at the point we should have expected it and with a final flurry we ended where we had started with the news that the majority of people had clocked 56 miles instead of the published distance....we were happy with that and with a rush to the warmth of the rugby club our thoughts went to hot food, never has a full English breakfast felt so good.

PS I do have a load of pictures to publish but the camera currently resides in my daughter's university digs!


  1. Hello there - as a fellow White Cliffer I'm intrigued about the 56 miles rather than 52. Was this the case due to getting lost (which we did in a very minor way a couple of times, or are you saying that the route was actually longer. I'm interested not least because while it felt we were moving along ok, it did take us about an hour longer than anticipated (but that could just be down to over eating at the check points!).

    Whatever, it was a great event and, as a Sussex lad born and bred, it's made me reconsider the Kent countryside (in a positive way), which is no bad thing.

    All the best - Raymond

    1. Hi Raymond
      There were general discussion over our wonderful egg and bacon back at the rugby club. A few people reported varying distances but it certainly sounded as though it was erring towards 56 miles or just under. My Garmin dropped out at ~40 miles but the last section of 20 miles or so did seem much longer even when power walking