Race Report - FKT Chesil Beach - Pete Roper - 2017
One Man Two Feet and Eighteen Miles Of Shingle
The beach runs from West Bay to Chesil Cove or in the opposite direction, but both previous attempts have started at West Bay to finish at Chesil Cove, so I wanted to run the beach in the same direction. I was going to aim for a finish of 3 hours on a 10 minute pace, this sounds ridiculously slow but we're looking at a bank of shingle of 18 miles long, 660ft wide and 50 ft high on the fleet, running on billions and billions of various sized shingle from pea sized gradually increasing to fist sized at the finish.
This type of running takes higher demands on the muscles, coordination and stability, the body tires faster due to the soft ground under foot.
My training had to be more specific, strengthening the upper body as well as the lower, the leg muscles would need to be used a lot more than normal, the Achilles' tendon, my arms, shoulders and core muscles would all have to be strengthened, not only would I have to put in the run miles but also the gym hours and I would do this using resistance bands while standing in a natural position
I train on the Lulworth ranges and Jurassic coast and have done for more years than I can remember so I mixed undulating paths and shingle beach loops of 12 -17 miles this helped with mental and physical fitness and strength, but I only ran 40% of my run miles on Shingle anymore and I could risk injury due to the overuse of my leg muscles.
On the 2nd of September at 10am on a still bright day and a low tide; the challenge started. It's not just a matter of running to the finish, you have to study the beach and look for the firmest path and that's a test within itself and the camber of the beach runs to 50 feet high once you get to the fleet. I was running well for the first few miles, hugging the shoreline with sand underfoot with hardly a camber. Gradually mile after mile this changed, I was running well as I past Burton Bradstock beach at only 2 miles in, the next beach was Cogden beach, as I approached West Bexington I could see a line of beach fishermen this made it slightly difficult as I had to dodge the lines as they entered the sea, but gradually the fishermen thinned out and I was back running alone.
It wasn't long before I picked up another line of fishermen, I had entered the beach at Abbotsbury, at this point the pebbles were the size of golf balls and the camber was beginning to show.
The challenge was now on, I had entered the fleet. I was now alone. The fleet has water to both sides, a bank of pebbles rising to 50ft with a camber to both sides, and just over 8 miles in length, this bank can break anyone mentally as well as physically if you let it.
My training miles are run alone and in places you would rarely see anyone so being alone did not affect me in anyway as this eight my section is very barren, nothing but myself and pebbles, the fleet lagoon to the left and the sea to my right. The bank is only accessible by boat, or helicopter, so you must get things right as once you are committed to the fleet you have to move forward there's no going back.
The sun was hot and I was trying to find the flattest, firmest part of the beach the camber was rising rapidly and the pebbles were getting loose, my feet were disappearing into them and every stride was an effort. My plan was to hug the water line to make the flattest shortest run possible but the pebbles are loose and camber too steep so I had to change my run line to hug the fleet instead. To start with this was a good move but as I got closer to the east fleet section the sediment in the fleet was getting deeper and it took all my effort to lift my feet out with every stride, this was building up on my shoes making it very hard to move on. So I new I had to leave the fleet and climb a large bank of pebbles to reach the top of the bank, this was a big effort within itself as not only was the climb exhausting but the pebbles stuck to the mud on my shoes, with six miles to the finish and four To the causeway I was on my knees, and the sun was beating down on me I had to dig deep and find that inner strength to pick myself up and finish what I had started.
After a while I picked myself up and gradually moved on. I was now in the Danger Zone, with Chickerell firing range to my left. I could just see Ferry Bridge in front of me some two miles off. With around four miles to the finish the beach was getting the better of me, my legs were fatiguing fast, my muscles were on fire. I eventually found the firmest part of the beach and only around ten feet from the shore line, but without any view to my left but a high bank of pebbles, but I new that on the other side of the bank was the start of the causeway this made me feel good not just physically but mentally knowing I was gradually making progress. A glance at my watch tells me my pace was climbing I wasn't going to break any records but possibly be the oldest to conquer the beach. Another mile passes and I was on my knees again with only three miles to go I felt broken the sun was hot and the thought of failure crept into my mind. I picked myself up and gave it my all, eventually I could see the XMiles flags coming into view but still a mile away, but this alone gave me the final push I needed, as I got closer I could see at least thirty supporters waiting for me to cross the line all cheering and clapping as I crossed the line I had done it, I had broken the the Chesil bank I was the third man to do so.
Looking at my watch a total of 17.88 miles in a time of 3:30:43, the third man to run the entire beach since 1963.
Bob Pape holds the record for Chesil Beach - 2:41:15 - in 1962. Exact date not known.
REFLECTING ON THE ATTEMPT
It was a hard challenge, but that's what a challenge is, hard, if it wasn't it would be easy to achieve and it wouldn't be a challenge.
After looking into the history of the beach, I have learnt that fifty five years ago the camber of the beach would have been much lower in height, but heavy storms over the years have added more and more shingle to the beach making it ever increasing in height.
I know I can complete the beach and knock off fifteen minutes. The heat was my downfall, but the still conditions were perfect. I will give this another go when it's cold just to proof it to myself that I have a faster time in my legs but for now my time of 3:30:43 will have to remain the third recorded time and third person to break the famous bank.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE?
Who will be the 1st Woman or 4th Man to break the beach? Bob Pape currently holds the record for Chesil Beach at 2:41:15 in 1962.