In short: Superb WSR organisation, beautiful well-marked route, plentiful aid stations, perfect yet again!! In full: The community feel of the White Star events keeps me returning to them time after time – friendly volunteers, happy fellow runners and this time I particularly noticed something at the start of the race. There was a chorus of “thank you, Andy” as all the runners passed Andy Palmer, Race Director. I run 30+ events every year and you don't often hear runners personally and spontaneously thank the RD at race start. White Star have built up a real connection with their runners; all are welcomed and of course, everyone loves the fabulous medals!
I approached the start line of the Ox Ultramarathon with slight trepidation: I hadn't done enough long distance training and, rather worryingly, my trail shoes decided to fall apart a few weeks back and I was forced to wear road shoes. The previous couple of days had seen a deluge of rain deposit itself firmly onto the Wiltshire countryside, surely turning the Ox and Shaftesbury Droves into quagmires! The first ten miles consisted of a loop taking us back to the Rotherley Valley and Rushmore Estate (different to last year) before we then went on to the Ox Drove. The route is very pretty with wild garlic in full flower; through lots of woodland, through fields, along stony bridleways and this year, some very muddy sections along the Ox Drove and Shaftesbury Drove. At Mile 15, we had a heavy rain shower for twenty minutes and suddenly the going was very slow with ankle deep mud in places and I waded through puddles halfway to my knees, but it all adds to the fun! At Mile 20, the inevitable happened; I slipped in a puddle, fell and got covered in mud! Luckily, no damage was done so I could continue and with one of the many aid stations just around the corner I was able to wash some of the mud off my hands and get going …. we were now well over half way!! Once we were up onto the Shaftesbury Drove and heading back to Rushmore, I knew I had cracked it and delighted in telling anyone who would listen about the remaining miles to the finish line (“two big hills, but you'll love them!!”). Then, much to my joy, a runner admitted to having no idea where he was …. now I had a great opportunity to distract my mind from the stresses of running as I could tell him exactly where he was! “ We're heading west towards Shaftesbury, Tisbury is three miles to the north with the woods at Fonthill just behind, a bit further to the left is Wardour Woods, the hill we've just passed with the trees on top is Buxbury, that pointy thing to the northeast is the TV mast at Sutton Mandeville, we're running parallel with the Ox Drove which is to the south, in a couple of miles at Mile 29/30 we will turn off the Shaftesbury Drove & head southwest to Berwick St John ...” Sure enough, after I had bored the poor man stupid, there it was at last - The Lovestation!! Resplendent with marshals in fancy dress checking that the runners were OK to continue, and with all kinds of savoury and sweet food. I downed a cup of cider which dulled my aching legs considerably then I felt ready to tackle the tricky descent (in road shoes!) into Berwick. After traversing the smelliest bridleway in the south (and, we passed the culprits in the form of some cattle in a shed), there was a short road section before we tackled the famed Winklebury Hill, the steepest on the entire route, but the prettiest – wooded, deeply cut and carpeted in wild garlic. I was convinced it would take me half an hour to get to the top, so I decided to time myself – I was surprised it only took me thirteen minutes. Now we only had a couple of miles to go; most of which was a fabulous descent into the Rotherley Valley. Even the grassy wall of a hill at Mile 34 didn't faze me this time; I almost skipped up it (that's the picture I have in my head, anyway!) along with the rest of the uphill to the finish line. After nearly eight hours, I had conquered the extra-muddy Ox Ultramarathon 2016, in road shoes !! Date of review: September 9, 2016
In short: Extraordinary views, great marshals & support from general public. In full: This is another must-do event in any marathon runner's diary. The scenery is glorious throughout and the views, amazing ... at Mile 10, just after the long climb from Kingston I could see Portland in the west and the Isle Of Wight in the east. There are some seriously long climbs on this one; at Mile 5 for one mile (heading inland to Worth Matravers), at Mile 8 for three miles (from Chapman's Pool to Kingston then climbing out of Kingston), at Mile 15 for one mile (from Tyneham up onto the Purbeck Ridge) and at Mile 21 for three miles (from Corfe up onto the Purbeck Ridge, again!) Superb organisation which keeps this race local & friendly, lots of encouraging marshals and more excellent support from the general public, on remote cliff-top paths or in the villages. They were lining the main street in Kingston again this year !! The Mayor of Swanage was in his regalia all day, starting the race then hours later, cheering everyone in on the last half mile! Generous goody bag, t-shirt, medal & I most appreciated the pot of ice cream at the finish line! :) :) Date of review: September 29, 2015
In short: Yet another iconic event from White Star Running; inspired, brilliant in every way, eleven out of ten! In full: This was a truly exceptional event; flawless, seemingly effortless organisation, and full of the typical White Star Running touches which make their events so special - the start/finish arch made out of straw bales decorated with flags; the hilarious signs on the route - “Blessed Are The Cheesemakers”, “Hurry Up, FFS”, in a section of woodland, “Danger, Angry Badgers”, “You Are Paying For This, LOL”, “Cakes Ahead” and a couple of my favourites, “Please Don't Sweat Over The Flora & Fauna” and at the Start Line, “At My Signal, Unleash Hell”; … happy, friendly runners; encouraging volunteers; the excellent race start (see below); glorious & varied countryside on the route; I could go on & on, … OK I will; … the huge & magnificent medal; cider at the Lovestation; Roman baths at the finish; hog roast; a jar of East Farm’s strawberry jam as part of the goody bag; the Roman fancy-dress (see below); a sense of history; lots of pre-race info in social media; a more than reasonable entry fee and a great atmosphere throughout ….
This event had a Roman theme due to the Roman Second Legion, under the command of Vespasian, setting up their camp in the area in 44AD. A good number of runners turned up in Roman fancy dress, as did a lot of the volunteers; centurions, soldiers, Roman goddesses, there were togas a-plenty & RD, Andy Palmer was resplendent, dressed as a Roman Emperor (Andy, you looked lovely!!). All these costumes kept me thoroughly entertained throughout the race as I tried to catch up with some Roman soldiers as we ran through fields of barley and I did in the end get a couple of great Gladiator pictures of them as they obligingly ran their fingers through the crop!
The start of the race was utterly brilliant; we walked up to the top of the hill to the start line and after the gun went, were led down the hill by an armoured Roman gladiator, on horseback. I think Hell was triumphantly unleashed :- the horse with gladiator galloped down the hill & all the runners charged down after him – it must have been an amazing sight for the spectators.
For this event, the Lovestation was renamed “Aphrodite's Temple” managed by the Goddess Aphrodite herself, in full costume and all the other Lovestation volunteers were also in Roman costume. It had all the usual White Star Running fare; from strawberries & watermelon to cakes, biscuits, scotch eggs, jelly beans, crisps and, of course, water, squash, coke and cider. This time, the marathoners visited this twice, once quite early on, at about Mile 7, then again at Mile 21 and what a welcome sight it was the second time around! Nearly at Mile 26, we ran around a field of barley & could hear the cheering at the finish line, the end of this superb race was nearly upon us. I caught back up with the Isle Of Wight Road Runner at the top of the last hill, then it was through some woodland and past a man nearly at the end of the half marathon wearing authentic Roman costume, armour and carrying a huge shield. A volunteer rang a bell to signal our approach to the finish line, then it was a great downhill finish towards the straw bale arch where I received the biggest marathon medal, ever. Marathon running surely can't get any better than this ?!!!! Date of review: July 24, 2015
In short: A celebration of marathon running …. no wonder this event was voted Best Marathon in the UK for 2014! In full: This year was my second Giant's Head Marathon and I had just as much fun at this event as I did the previous year. The race was started by the farmer's wife again, this time she was on horseback and at the sound of her hunting horn, we were off! We were soon out of the village of Sydling St Nicholas and after about two miles, and in the middle of nowhere, we could hear a bell ringing. And, there he was again, the naked farmer in his bathtub, drinking beer! There are about ten large ascents on the route, but therefore ten exhilarating descents & this is partly what makes the GHM so excellent, as well as the stunning views over the Dorset countryside from the tops and the friendliness of the other runners. The descent around the Mile 17 mark is one of the longest, about two miles and seems to go on forever. This year there were swathes of foxgloves in full flower and I spotted at least two different species of orchid. Excellent support again from the marshals, tables at the aid stations groaning with all kinds of different food and drink; watermelon, cakes, biscuits, peanuts, crisps, etc., then at the Lovestation at Mile 21 there was cider and, as the race briefing included a proposal of marriage by one of the runners, pink champagne! I knocked back a cup of cider and a shot of the champagne, then it was time to get a move on to the finish line as I had stopped to take over 100 photos on my way around the route this time. Luckily, the previously untried consumption of alcohol mid-race did not have an adverse effect on me, quite the opposite in fact as I found myself almost skipping down the last descent to the finish line on the village green where I was greeted by the iconic GHM medal, t-shirt and cheers from the faster finishers and spectators, who didn't seem to want to leave!
White Star Running have made this a “must-do” event for every serial marathoner and long may it continue. Date of review: July 24, 2015
In short: Another great event by White Star Running through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside In full: I ran the Ox Marathon in 2014 so this year, in order to obtain the rather excellent medal picturing the Ox with the turned-down horns, I threw caution to the wind & registered for the Ox Ultramarathon, at least 35 miles; if not nearer to 37. Conditions were very good this year, sunny for the first half of the race & dry underfoot; unlike last year where the going was much slower, lots of mud & big puddles … none of that this time, as we ran through glorious woodland for the first ten miles, carpeted with strong-smelling wild garlic and even the bluebells were still in flower. The Shaftesbury Drove was almost completely dry! The route is an anticlockwise loop to the east of the magnificent Rushmore Estate, with an extra inner loop near Broadchalke and gets as far as Bishopstone before heading west and homeward bound. The route overall is not too hilly; a few big climbs, but these make for some great descents which really make up for the hills. One of these was turning off the Shaftesbury Drove and running down to Berwick St John after which was the steepest climb of the day, the very beautiful wooded footpath up to the top of Winklebury Hill, deeply cut and full of wild garlic. Shortly after this, I at last reached the Lovestation and was informed by manager, Karen, that there might be “a small undulation” before getting to the finish which was now only three miles away. I took this comment with a very large pinch of salt and good job I did, as after, shall we say, an interesting descent into the Rotherley Valley on legs which were starting to distinctly feel like gateposts (by now I had run three miles further than I ever had before) there it was in front of me, that grassy wall of a hill which I had encountered twice before (both WSR events) resplendent with marshal standing at the top! My shriek of “You have got to be ****** joking!!!” reverberated several times around the quiet valley, and as most of the local birdlife launched themselves, as one, into the air in fright after my shrieking, I carefully inched my way up the hill on increasingly rickety legs. After seven hours & forty-two minutes of running and run/walking 37 miles I at last reached the finish line to receive a great t-shirt in a glorious shade of brilliant tangerine and the coveted Ox with the turned-down horns medal, was mine! Yet another superb event by White Star Running; huge thanks to the organisers and all the volunteers. Date of review: June 28, 2015
In short: Had a wonderful time at WSR's inaugural Larmer Tree Marathon - long may it continue! In full: They've done it again; White Star Running delivered another first class event today in the form of the Larmer Tree Marathon. Even though the sun failed to make an appearance, the scenery was still very beautiful; the route mainly off-road with winding trails through tracts of woodland, quite a lot of mud and lots of hills; a couple of which seemed to go on forever! We were more than rewarded though, with the exhilarating descents and the views from the tops. Aid stations appeared very regularly and it didn't seem long at all before we reached the excellent Lovestation at Mile 21 .... stocked with all manner of food, crisps, cake, jelly beans, energy gels, etc., AND Cider and Blackberry Vodka! These last two beverages went down a treat & after a hug from the Lovestation Manager, Kevin Day, I ran up the hill from the village (Tollard Royal) with renewed energy! After the final woodland path, we crossed the road and started on the finishing straight; the Larmer Tree drive, and I shrieked with delight as I crossed the finish line in 4:40 (I had expected a time of around 5 hours!) The Larmer Tree makes a very good venue and we were given a food voucher after finishing (I tucked into some garlic bread and carrot & coriander soup). What else can I say apart from the whole was Just Brilliant!! Book early for next year though (there is also a Half & a 20 Mile), it's bound to sell out quickly! P.S. The course signage was informative and also amusing - typical WSR humour to keep us runners entertained! Date of review: March 15, 2015
In short: Happiness is ... running the Purbeck Marathon ... In full: WOW !!! What a great event; the scenery is absolutely stunning the whole way round and more than distracts the brain from the 3,000 feet of climbing. There is so much to see on the route; the ruined village of Tyneham at Mile 14, Corfe Castle at Mile 20 with a level crossing to negotiate, we all tiptoed past a massive bull half way up the long drag to Kingston (he didn't seem to mind lots of runners on his territory!), and passed through a beautiful herd of Devonshire Ruby Red cattle at Mile 22. I loved all the hills because of the spectacular views from the top - I saw the Isle of Portland at one point!! The longest ascent starts at around Mile 21, just outside Corfe and continues up the Purbeck Ridge for about three miles; more than worth the effort for the view of Poole Bay, Brownsea Island and Swanage. The last couple of miles are downhill or flat & it seemed that drinking in all that beautiful scenery had done it's job - before I knew it I was doing an exhilarating 8:30 min/mile along the seafront at Swanage to the finish line! I found the organisation to be first-class and the friendly marshals & volunteers deserve a special mention with all their kind words of encouragement - they do a great job for us runners! What really stood out on this marathon was the support from the general public. On some races you only get a sprinkling of support, but on this one they were lining the streets through Kingston, Corfe and Swanage. It felt like the whole local community was getting involved and I lost count how many times I had to say "thank you" to those offering words of encouragement. This not only happened in the villages, but also with walkers along the tops in the middle of nowhere! I took my phone with me & took photos the whole way round (I've posted them to the Purbeck Marathon fb page). The pot of ice cream at the Finish Line was a touch of genius and a Big Thank You to the organisers for making this such a memorable day. Date of review: September 19, 2014
In short: The 50K is really great for those going above marathon distance for the first time. In full: I loved running the 50K; a mix of road and trail and the hills weren't too challenging, so perfect for my first go at running more than marathon distance. There were eleven well-stocked aid stations and I found the signage was fine on the 50K. There are a number of highlights on the route - running around the outer ramparts of Old Sarum, the magnificent Longford Castle, the beautiful chalet house, the yew forest, the Racecourse and the Cathedral Close. I've worked my way up the distances over the last four years starting with the 20K in 2011 & love the fact that all the different distances, as well as walkers, are all mixed in together - it makes a really interesting event! The only slight downside I have is that the general public in the city seem to have no idea there is a race on & look at us as if we are out of our minds as we run past them. I have to shout "Make way!!" to get them to move - it would just be nice if Salisbury itself recognised the 54321 event as something to be celebrated, as it is a brilliant day for the participants and supporters. A Big Thank You to all the marshals, volunteers and Salisbury Firestation for organising this excellent event! Date of review: August 15, 2014
In short: Wonderful views from the tops, slick organisation, super-friendly marshals. In full: What a truly great event the GHM is! White Star Running certainly know how to look after us runners, with plentiful water & food stations and the excellent Love Station at Mile 21, complete with cider, water melon, all kinds of food & even vodka and hugs for the slightly more stressed marathoner! I loved all the extras that White Star are so good at providing - the naked farmer in bathtub, the shotgun start, the massive ice-creams at the finish. And, never have I been more entertained during a marathon, courtesy of a man & his small dog on a lead (who I later found out were called Kevin & Max), who I said "hello" to about seven times on the route and again at the finish line - I don't know how they did it, but it was brilliant! Sometimes I saw them at the water stations & at other times in the middle of absolute nowhere - hilarious! It's imperative that you take your phone with you to take pictures along this beautiful route and, of course, the legendary medal, t-shirt & pint glass make this event excellent value for money. Date of review: June 30, 2014