This April, Dan Williams will be taking on an epic challenge on the Dorset coastline. He will attempt to run and speed hike the whole of the Dorset coast in one go, setting an official Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the process.
There isn’t currently a FKT for the 100-mile, 17,500ft-ascent, journey along the Dorset coast, so Dan is hoping to set a benchmark that might, in future, attract other ultrarunners to explore the area. As well as raising awareness of the Dorset and Jurassic Coast area, Dan is also raising money for the Jurassic Coast Trust.
It’s not all been plain sailing for Dan in his running journey, as we look back at how he got started and why he wants to take on this epic Dorset-based challenge.
From running to learning to walk again
Dan has certainly been on something of a journey. Back in September 2014, things were going well. His running was in a good place and he was all set to head to the Lake District to take part in the Rab Mountain Marathon.
But, as all these stories go, something happened that would mean Dan would have to not only miss the marathon but also running for the rest of the year. It was just a normal Thursday and Dan was cleaning out some guttering about 20-foot up a set of ladders when the ladder slipped. Dan jumped, hoping to land on something part-way down, but ended up in the middle of the road.
Initially, he didn’t think there was anything wrong, except that he couldn’t get up from the floor. A friend helped him out of the road and the 999 call was made.
A swift ambulance journey to A&E and the x-ray results that spelled the end of any running for time being: two broken heel bones. Despite the severity of the injury, the orthopaedic consultant told Dan he had had a lucky escape – he could have injured his pelvis quite severely. The consultant also impressed on Dan the importance of following his advice if he ever wanted to walk again. The news that he ‘might’ be walking by Christmas, even if not in the same way he did before, and that he ‘may’ be able to run again one day, was certainly a shock to the fit and otherwise healthy runner.
But through careful adherence to the advice given, plenty of rest and recovery, and intense physiotherapy, Dan began his journey back to full fitness, filled with a renewed determination and motivation.
Turning more serious
Dan was a runner already prior to his accident. He ran a lot when he was younger, mostly orienteering, something he continued in the Army. While in the Army he would compete, and often win or place, in the Army/Corps championships. He left the Army in 1998 at age 22 with a back issue, and that was the end of any running for a while.
It took until 2010 until Dan decided to give running a shot. He joined a local club on the Isle of Wight and started to take part in various races. He describes himself as a ‘mid-rear packer’ at this point. While did take on the odd LDWA marathon challenge, these were done at a leisurely pace.
However, the accident set a fire in his feet and Dan wanted to take his running more seriously. Just six months after the accident, Dan took on the Larmer 20 trail race. His heels still hurt at this time and it took until November 2015, 14 months after the initial fall, that he could finally run pain free.
Once the pain had gone, Dan started to pick up his training and distance. He entered the now-defunct Silva Endure 12-hour race in June 2016 and came in third with 65 miles in 11 hours 20 minutes. At this point he realised that actually he might be quite good at this running thing!
He has gone on to complete seven more 12-hour events since then, with a few wins and high placings. In 2017, he took on his first 24-hour event at Thetford Forest, the Monster Ambit 24. Despite admitting to going off too fast on a hot day and struggling after 20 miles, he slowed down and managed to hold on for third place, with 102.5 miles.
The challenges have just been getting bigger ever since. In June 2018, Dan ran the 70-mile Isle of Wight Coast Path from West Cowes anticlockwise to East Cowes. It was part of an unofficial Round the Isle of Wight Relay. The event, which is not a race and runners are completely self-sufficient, is broken down into 10 legs of various distances and attracts a good number of local club runners. Dan took part as a solo entrant, completing the entire distance alone.
In his research he had found that the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the route was set at 13 hours 49 minutes by Damian Hall. So Dan set himself a target of 13 hours to comfortably beat the FKT on the route, relying on his local knowledge of the area to help him make the time.
Dan has a full review of the entire day over on his personal blog site, but in the interests of brevity here, Dan completed the route in just 12 hours 25 minutes. A few months later he registered the time as an official Fastest Known Time, submitting evidence of his feat and getting it vetted.
And it was this the event that started Dan on his Dorset Coast Run challenge.
Plans for Dorset
Andy Palmer, race director and owner of White Star Running, heard about Dan’s FKT on the Isle of Wight. He already knew Dan, of course, as he had taken part in a number of White Star Running events, even winning the Bad Cow Frolic in September 2017. He suggested to Dan that he might like to give the Dorset Coast path a bash, setting another FKT in the process. In fact, there isn’t currently an official FKT for the route, so completion in April will mean an only known time.
Dan believes that the key to setting a good FKT is knowing the course. He credits his Isle of Wight performance to knowing where he was going, understanding the ups and downs of the route, minimising navigation and hitting no surprises. The more done on autopilot, the better.
Being an Isle of Wight resident, the chance to recce the course over in Dorset has been less straightforward. He has done two thorough recces so far, and is about to take on a third, covering as much of the route as possible, committing it to memory.
The challenge will start at Ware, Lyme Regis, and Dan will be following public footpaths, bridleways and trails all the way to Chewton Bunny, Highcliffe on Sea, including a loop around the Portland Coastal Path. He will be supported and crewed by White Star Running during the challenge, which is due to start on 12th April 2019. Thank you also to Freshwater Holiday Park for providing free accommodation to make sure he gets a good night’s sleep before his attempt.
Sponsor Dan for his challenge here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dan-williams-uk