Lessons From My First Ultra Marathon (CTS Dorset Ultra 2015)

Simon Scotting at CTS Dorset Ultra Marathon 2015

CTS Dorset Ultra had shocking hills and windy wet weather... my first ultra marathon (December 2015). My official time of 7:05:16 means I finished in 37th place out of 134 entrants (27th percentile). 28 entrants (21%) did not finish (DNF) :(

CTS Dorset Ultra 2015 was my first ultra marathon race. Although I did a practice 45km run around Moscow, it was just a long practice run while eating… and Moscow is flat.

This race was 53km (33mi) and I finished in 7:05:16. It was the longest and most difficult run I have ever done (so far).

I visited a running shop in London on Thursday to prepare (trail running shoes, racing vest, etc), so lots of my gear was untested. Everyone says not to do anything in a race you haven’t done in training. I totally agree with this, but I didn’t follow my own advice This time I was lucky and nothing bad happened, but I’ve since had disasters which could have been prevented (maybe).

The CTS Dorset Ultra course difficulty was described as “extreme”. This was not an understatement. After a few attempts at running up hill, I watched the other runners “power hike” up instead. This was a better strategy. I ran the flats and descents. The extra portion of black pudding I had with my full English breakfast meant gravity was working for me and I always passed people on the descents. The climbs and descents are very tough on the quadriceps and inner thighs, I experienced stabbing cramps in both muscle groups occasionally requiring me to stop and stretch.


The CTS Dorset Ultra hills were steep and hard enough in good weather, but the wind created an additional challenge.

I had no experience with this. The wind seemed to change direction, but the strength remained the same. This was probably just me running in different directions on the course.

Sometimes the wind was at my back, which was great. It was strong enough to faster. My strides increased in length.

Sometimes the wind was in my face. It was so strong I had just power walk because it was blowing me back. A few times I was trying to run downhill and noticed that I could not even fall forward if I tried. The wind was hold my body up, and I had to force myself to walk downhill.

The worst kind of wind was side wind. The random gusts were enough to shift me sideways while mid-stride. It ruined my rhythm and I had to clench my core muscles to avoid falling down.

rough weather and waves along the Dorset coast, December 2015

Wind blew the sea spray up the cliffs… and into my eyes (CTS Dorset Ultra 2015)


The wind increased in force as the race progressed. Combined with the wind, I felt the rain stinging my face sideways. Near the clifftops, I noticed the rain was stinging my eyes. Was that salt water? Yes. The ocean waves were so rough and the the wind was so strong it was blowing the ocean spray up the cliffs and directly into my eyes.

When it started raining during a race, you had to decide when/if you should wear the mandatory rain jacket. We all had to carry a rain jacket in our race packs. There was a surprise kit check somewhere in the CTS Dorset Ultra course to ensure compliance. However, there were no rules about when to pull it out and wear it.

Just to be clear, the rain jacket is not about staying dry. You are running for hours, so you are sweaty. It takes some time and effort to extract the rain jacket and get it on, especially if you are running while doing this. This means you are unlikely to put it on for drizzle. The drizzle feels fine, but can increase to proper rain. As the rain increases in strength, you become more cold and uncomfortable. You start thinking about the rain jacket. You debate the pulling it on, because what if the rain stops?

By this point, you are already soaking wet. So why use a “rain jacket”? Water is more conductive of heat than air, so being wet makes you colder. This is why your body sweats to cool itself down. The rain jacket traps in some of your body heat and prevents more cold rain water from making contact with you. It won’t keep you dry since you are already wet, but you will avoid getting cold from the rainwater.

My rain jacket was new (purchased 2 days ago) and I had not tried it while running before. Soon I realised the big decision required:

How to Wear Your Rain Jacket

Wear the rain jacket...Pro +Con -
OVER the running pack+ Easier to put on
+ Easier to take off
(both can be done while running)
- Must open rain jacket to access items on front-straps of running pack
- Very hard to access items on back of running pack
- Need to remove rain jacket to refill water reservoir
- More uncomfortable to run with rain jacket stretched over running pack
UNDER the running pack+ More comfortable fit
+ Easier to access running pack
- Requires removal of running pack to put on
- Requires removal of running pack to take off
(very difficult to do while running)

I tried both ways at CTS Dorset Ultra. Which is better? If you can muster the mental discipline to take off and put on the running pack, under the pack is better. However, the additional effort required to do so cannot be underestimated when you are tired and will only get more tired later in the race.

Removing the rain jacket becomes necessary when you get too hot. Being lazy risks suffering unnecessary difficulty, and possibly costing you the race. Rain jackets require some practice.

Things I learnt for next time:

1. Do more hill training
Difficult to do in Moscow, but I guess the treadmill will have to do. Stairmaster at the gym would be ideal too, probably the b

2. Do more leg strength training
I have just been doing upper body strength training due to time constraints, but I really need to start doing lunges (most important), squats, and deadlifts.

3. Do high intensity plyometric exercises
Descent running puts so much force on the legs. Running downhill beats up the leg muscle more than ascending. Including some explosive plyometric exercises would have helped a lot.

4. Push harder
I held back because I was worried about not being able to finish the distance. Although I was tired at the end, I still had some energy in the tank. Now I had confidence I could do the distance, so next time I would push myself closer to the edge.

5. You can do it
I was shocked by the hills. If I was not in a race surrounded by other people tackling the hills, I would not have thought it possible to climb them as part of a race. Some sections were over pebble beach, or straight up steep stairs.

6. Power walk the hills
Running up a hill was faster than “power walking” the hill, but it took too much energy. Early in the race I was running the hills and I was passing power-walkers.  By the top, I was out of breath. Many of the power-walkers passed me while I was still jogging in recovery.

7. Take some time at the aid stations to fuel up
Stopping while running was a new concept for me. I felt like I was losing time, but it was important to refill water bottles and eat some snacks.

8. Pack your race pack with purpose
I should have thought more about the stuff I carried at CTS Dorset Ultra and organised it better. Searching for food in the running vest while running makes you think more about how you packed it. Easy to access and simple organisation. I could have just packed my vest with all the gear and practiced taking it out to troubleshoot this before the race. Of course this was not possible since I had bought the vest (and most of the fuel) two days before the race. I guess I could have done it on the train. Next time.

9. Eat early, eat often
I ate a lot of energy bars, gels and real food. My fuel intake is definitely improving.

10. Electrolyte drops work well
I also used electrolyte liquid drops in my water bottles and hydration pack (I drank more than 5L water during the race). This worked well too.

5 weeks later, I would run my next ultra marathon at CTS Dover Ultra 2106. Next time I brought along my GoPro.

Simon Scotting at CTS Dorset Ultra 2015

CTS Dorset Ultra – lack of photos/videos of me running this race was due to my distance anxiety. Now I know I can do this distance on this terrain and in this weather. This photo was near the gear checkpoint. I had completed the marathon distance and was heading out for my final loop in the ultra distance.