Dorset Invader is a series of races over a May weekend in West Dorset. Organised by White Star Running, each race is a tough but stunning trail route that will both challenge and entertain. Amy Robson tells us more…
Setting the scene
Six different hill forts surround the serene farmland where the Invader campsite resides and, all things considered, they serve as brilliant foreshadowing for what running these events has in store.
The Dorset Invader Frolic is a new race for White Star Running. Replacing the old Invader races (which were more Romanesque in nature) with a brand-new Celtic endeavour. And hills. Lots of hills.
The campsite of the Dorset Invader consists of the usual White Star fare: flags, cows and alcohol. There’s also the White Star merchandise tent and a special area for a barn dance (which was held on the Sunday evening for the 2019 event).
All of these add to the special charm that comes with a White Star Running event. Familiarity mixed with conviviality as a bunch of runners venture fourth on the trails together. And, oh boy, are there some beautiful trails in this area of Dorset.
Dorset Invader Frolic
The Dorset Invader Frolic is the first of four races to take place over the Invader weekend, followed by the marathon and half-marathon on the Sunday, and a Chaos race on the Bank Holiday Monday for all the family to enjoy.
I was one of the many individuals to turn up eagerly for the Frolic for the beginning of a 12-hour lapped extravaganza. Each lap came up on my watch at an estimated 3.7 miles and 7 laps were needed for a marathon. Any more and you’re in ultra territory and, with 12 hours, there’s a lot of time to play around with any distance that you desire.
The route for the Invader Frolic is true Dorset countryside. A beautiful fielded start leads right in to a shaded woodlands before turning in to a little village and then further farmland. Some of the initial roads are dusty, almost sanded, underfoot and the ground was so dry (and conditions so hot) that it would be feasible to do the entire course in road shoes.
After some undulating scenery, the route goes off in to a quaint little village area complete with a rustic church to enjoy.
One of the best aspects of the Frolic course is that it’s varied, allowing you to easily segment it in the mind. My personal approach is to test out the lie of the land on the course and the conditions in which I’m running before beginning to become intimately familiar with it during my subsequent ventures – and for this it’s perfect.
There are some gorgeous sights to be discovered on the Frolic, from the dusted footpaths, to the little cove with a running stream and (of course) the Lovestation – every aspect of the Frolic Invader is set to spark the soul with a sense of adventure.
There are also slopes. Many, many slopes, and it is perhaps part of the playful cruelty of the Invader Frolic course that it finishes with a fair few of these ‘slopes’ before coming in to the campsite where the lap finishes and you decide whether to call it a day or continue onward.
Part of the kindness of the Invader Frolic route, however, is that the final run-in is on a gorgeous downhill where horses and chickens glance on as your stride victoriously through the chip mats.
But, let’s face it, a large part of a race isn’t just its atmosphere – it’s the friendships on course and the professionalism of the race company and, in White Star’s case, both are excellent. Because the Frolic laps are set to reboot at the main campsite any family that have come with a runner and any runners that have completed their laps are all waiting, cheering on those who decide to keep on going. It also means that the toilets (and your personal supplies) are never too far away. It’s a brilliant logistical choice from a race standpoint and made all the difference.
By the time I was finished with my ultra I felt refreshed, rather than defeated, by the Invader Frolic, and that is always the sign of a good race. Other runners continued on but even at the end of the 12 hours there were still people cheering them in – still smiles, laugher, and visible victory in the eyes of all those who had conquered the Invader Frolic.
The Invader Half-Marathon/Marathon route is a two-lap course so, even though I only did one lap, I can vouch for the breathtaking nature of this course… and the difficulty.
This course goes up the highest hill in Dorset, and the second highest too, just for good measure. The result is a course that feels unforgiving and unforgettable.
When doing the Invader Half-Marathon you feel as if you are always climbing – always forcing your legs fiercely up the ascending fields, forestland and farms. In some cases the climb is gradual, rocky and draining. In others it’s sharp, rooted and inviting.
On the biggest climb you find yourself surrounded with ancient forests and trees that are so tall that most phone cameras will struggle to capture their grandiose nature in comparison to the outline of a runner.
There was also a tree fort and a swinging rope up the tallest point, which was a nice change of pace for anyone who wanted to transition from serious Half-Marathon/Marathon mode to playful teenager in 26.2 seconds flat.
But this course isn’t all uphill and, just when you feel like the climb will never end, you’re suddenly met with sharp downhills which are difficult to navigate. There’s a temptation to fly down these hills with complete abandonment to good sense, but divots in the ground and the sheer speed that you can barrel down them does help restrain the experience.
This has to be one of White Star Running’s most challenging courses and that sentiment was very much reflected on course. Careful consideration needs to be given to fuelling, pacing and the potential need for poles (alongside the skill of climbing over stiles and ducking under electric fences).
Still, if you’re up for the challenge it’s absolutely worth adding this race to your diaries.
How many other times do you get to run at the highest point in Dorset, after all, and survey a world of trails with a community of likeminded individuals?
I was unable to stay for the Chaos Race, but did manage to be present for the Barn Dance, where a live band guided tired (but jovial) individuals through a variety of different dances.
Laughter filled the air of the barn dance tent and White Star Catering and Piddle Brewery kept everyone well replenished wherever needed.
Racing is one thing, and it can be a great thing, but running is so much more, and little touches such as the Invader Barn Dance get what running is about.
If I had to use one word to sum up the Invader it would be ‘testing’, but in the best of ways. These races are not necessarily for novices but there’s no reason why they can’t be tried by beginners and the support, in such cases, is exceptional.
I highly recommend the Invader weekend, for the atmosphere as much as for the trails. We came, we invaded and we got the medals for it.