Our roving race reporter Amy Robson shares with us her experience at the inaugural Summer Sessions by White Star Running, held in Moreton, Dorset, in August 2018.
The event is back for 2019, but this time in July and with a new roster of races including the return of the Summer Sessions (an 12-hour lapped event, increasing from 8 hours in 2018, and now on the Friday); a Unicorn Frolic (another 12-hour lapped event with a, you’ve guessed it, unicorn theme), a marathon, a 10-mile race and kids’ race. Find out more: https://whitestarrunning.co.uk/weekend-at-the-races/
On location – the Tenko link
Back in 1981 a TV series called Tenko, which documented the experiences of British, Australian and Dutch women who were captured after the Battle of Singapore, was launched by creator Lavinia Warner.
The story of Tenko, is one of great complexity, as Warner was a fierce woman who was determined to give the show a sense of dignity and accuracy in its execution. It’s not worth dwelling fully in to, but it is worth noting that Warner fought tooth and claw to get Tenko off the ground.
She was especially fuelled by a 1979 incident where she heard it being described at a BBC Christmas party as ‘that awful Tenko thing’ which, to her, just acted as a rallying call to get shit done in a spectacular, critic-defying fashion.
What’s also important to know about Tenko is that its outdoor scenes were filmed in Moreton, where a bunch of equally determined runners and seasoned plodders gathered together in order to tread similar ground, and maybe a little bit more.
The Summer Sessions Weekend inaugural event was held in August 2018, featuring an 8-hour lapped event (called a ‘Frolic’) on the Saturday and 5-mile and 10-mile events on the Sunday.
The 8-hour event was a romp around what the White Star Running page described as ‘demanding trails’ which, in hindsight, probably should have acted as a warning flag to myself – a road marathon runner and complete trail and White Star virgin – that things might be a bit tricky at times.
The course was a 4.4-mile (ish) lap of almost nothing but trail running and consisted of almost every single type of technical terrain that one could hope to encounter in the Dorset area.
We’re talking a starting section in a grassy field, followed by a run in to lumpy, bumpy paths of expected cobbly grass, before striding off in to woodlands and beyond. It wasn’t long on this route before I learnt what trail running was about, nor was it long before I ascertained that the term ‘technical’ essentially meant ‘look where you’re fekkin’ going’.
‘Demanding’ was certainly the right word for this route. Although there were no monumental hills, there were enough sections of both ascent and descent in tricky terrain that most people were carefully plowing their way in determined strides up certain areas of the course.
Woodlands opened up in to a sea of yellowy grasslands which was rugged, firm, and I twisted my ankle on in the very first lap. This lead in to further sections of trees and thick wet shrubs where there was a communal cheer at the knowledge that the tall grass would be well trodden come the subsequent laps.
The variety of sights at the Summer Sessions Frolic was so comprehensive that it’s almost difficult to remember it all (especially given one’s need to constantly be looking at the ground so as not to break one’s neck). However, it’s fair to say that there are only a few ultras in the UK where you can go from a moorland-esque view of heathers, in to a fresh and thriving forest, over a panelled bridge, in to a sandy patch of dunes, and then off to another route where the ground is so stunningly black and rocky that it could almost be considered volcanic in nature.
At one point runners were greeted with a sharp downhill slope which prompted a shuffle followed by a sharp, uncontrolled sprint from all who met it. This was then followed by an uphill turn, a patch of soft unsteady ground (for good measure) and then a log that demanded jumping, because of course it did.
I was also claimed on my fourth lap by an incredibly bouncy, uneven and deceptively springy patch of yellowy grasslands that soon gained nicknames from pretty much every runner out there. I personally called it the Hay OCR, but multiple names were conjured up by the White Star Running Collective – creative, clever, and barmy bunch that they all are.
I say ‘they,’ I suppose ‘we’ is more appropriate, because as soon as I stepped foot on the camping ground for the Summer Sessions I was made to feel as welcome as if I were an old friend. The community spirit just kept on trucking as the Summer Sessions participants made their way through the laps.
This spirit of friendly banter and Dorset wit was epitomised at the ‘Lovestation’ en route, which was brilliantly situated in a section of almost bleach-blonde sand in an area that looked almost completely alien to the rest. I honestly wouldn’t have believed we were running the same 4.4-mile lap if not for the many different sites I had taken in along the way.
Each and every volunteer at the Lovestation and beyond were full of smiles and sunshine, even when the weather got cloudy, and the chuckling cringes as they refilled the water bottles attached to my *ahem* chest were a welcome bit of humour on some of the darker loops around.
I managed 8 of these amazing laps in just over 8 hours (with push-ups at the end, as is the Bad Boy Running Podcast way) and, although I can’t say I loved every moment of the race, I did adore every part of the course. And, yes, I did feel the same sense of steely determination that Tenko’s Lavinia Warner did when met with some parts of the course too. That ‘I’ll show you’ attitude must have been ingrained in the Moreton soil.
Thank goodness for the exceptionally well signposted nature of the course, too, as there were so many areas where one would be looking into nature’s ether if not for the WSR beacons of giant arrows and ties of tape.
Come the end I had a giant medal, two giant blisters, one tiny tick, and memories that will last forever.
5- and 10-mile events
I would segment the 5 and 10, but there is little need, as the course was identical. The primary difference being how many times you lapped the 5-mile route!
This race took us in a completely different direction to the Summer Sessions Frolic, which is probably a bit of a relief in some ways. Then again, my adoration for the Frolic meant I would have happily hobbled through it 3-4 more times to earn the two stunning medals that accompanied the 5 and 10.
Having said that, the path for the 5 and 10 presented a whole different type of trail running, which allowed me to stamp off more bingo markers on my ‘technical’ roster.
For this race we presented with very long stretches of fields, some trodden in deep by cows leading to more ankle rolling, verbal profanities, and a group laughter as everyone waded their way through it all.
There were also bridges, multiple bridges, some of which were stone and caked with residual mud, and others which were metal grated and slippery to the point of near-caution from the bonkers brigade of White Star aficionados.
Oh, there was also an optional lake plunge… and an electric fence to navigate… probably best not done simultaneously.
It was during the second lap of this 5 and 10 course that I also became acquainted with the lovely sweeper of the shorter WSR distances and thus temporarily became royalty alongside the friend whom I was accompanying through her struggling attempt at the route (after having smashed the 5, I must say).
Bants were had, but there was also a very kind and balanced approach and a genuine concern for our safety and wellbeing. At all times I felt like the priority was our safety and trying to help coach us through the course if needed or steer us to a sensible DNF if the end was not attainable. For my friend it sadly wasn’t, but that was okay – it was all handled in very good taste and that really does make all the difference.
It was while striding on to make up time that I got a sense of what it was like for the back-of-the-packers in a WSR too. Scattered but connected was a phrase that came to mind, and there wasn’t a single miserable face among the lot of us.
Finishing up my 5 and 10 (double push-ups, of course) I was met with my final medal, some lovely Dorset Gingers (which were gone by the end of the night) and a very well-met congratulatory bottle ‘o booze.
I was always told by those in-the-know around me that there is nothing quite like a White Star Running event, but now I truly feel the same and I cannot think of a better way to spend a grey and soaking weekend in Dorset.