Day 8: Durlston Country Park parkrun – June 18, 2022

Beauty and the Beast – Day 8 at Durlston was always going to be the toughest parkrun to take on. The second most hilly in the country and a real mental and physical test for John and I. Please donate here to the Dorset Blind Association.

This week John Baker, my brilliant VI Guide, has written this post:

Looking for dolphins with Run Director Katy

Unique & breath-taking

Durlston Country Park parkrun #14 took place in ideal weather conditions – after several days of dry weather, it was bright with a little cloud cover, wind was light, and the temperature was starting to warm up. 

07.30 and arriving much earlier than I normally would for a parkrun, the thermometer was already touching 17°C. It was important for me to have time to walk sections of the course before the run started. Also, Cliffe and I were being interviewed by the local radio station, Purbeck Coast FM, at 8:00am about the Blindfold Challenge that we are undertaking.  More about that later.

The course is like no other parkrun that I have attended.  The run reports logged since the inaugural event in March describe the incredible scenery and challenging course very well, which is why I had looked forward to my visit to Durlston Country Park with a mix of excitement and apprehension.  The views are as breath-taking as the previous run reports describe and the inclines are brutal.

I helped volunteers Nicola and Ingrid for a few minutes with setting up the start of the course, taking the opportunity to see the challenge of the Tilly Whim loop that lay ahead.

John Baker prepping for the challenge that is Durlston Country Park parkrun

Today saw 105 runners plus 2 tail walkers complete the parkrun.  As well as many regular participants at Durlston Country Park parkrun, there were several visiting runners from as far afield as Canada and South Africa.

Ross gave the first timers welcome (“right, left, right, left”), but he had to compete with the noise of the coastguard helicopter that was performing a training exercise on the water below.

The start is straight down (but you know at some point that you have to come back up again)

Once the run was underway, each of the three loops generated slightly different thoughts for me as a first time Durlston Country Park runner. 

Tilly Whim loop is definitely not a gentle introduction to the course, with steep inclines from the start. The magnificent views help to distract the conventional park-runner – but the knowledge that it needs to be tackled twice still prayed on my mind on the first loop.

Downhill for the VI runner is even more difficult to navigate than up hill sections. Steps such as these when running blind are extremely formidable.

Castle loop has equally impressive views on the downhill section, followed by a steep uphill section behind the castle, and (from the runner’s perspective) has the distinct advantage of being shorter than Tilly Whim loop, so the prospect of a second circuit is a little less daunting. 

Isle of Wight loop (once only, out and back) has the benefit of seeing other smiling park-runners passing in the opposite direction, allowing mutual encouragement mid-way through the run, which is much needed for the uphill return half.

Changes underfoot make Durlston especially challenging for the VI runner

The finish tunnel is always a welcome sight on a Saturday morning, but the views from the finish point at Durlston make the finish even more spectacular!

As amazing as the setting is, it would not be parkrun without the superb commitment and friendliness of the regular team of volunteers, and the Durlston Country Park core team and volunteers are first class.  From our first contact with Zodwa in May, the team gave nothing but encouragement to our challenge.  Katy, the RD on the day, could not have been more helpful and the reception that we received before, during and after the run was brilliant.

Congratulations to all the runners and volunteers at event #14 for taking part in such a smooth-running fun parkrun experience. 

Just getting across the finish line presented some problems

To wrap up with this report, the reason for Cliffe and I visiting Durlston Country Park parkrun this week, and being interviewed by Rena from Purbeck Coast FM, is the Blindfold Challenge that we are undertaking to raise awareness of vision impaired (VI) running and to raise money for Dorset Blind Association. 

Cliffe and I are part of a team of regular VI guides for an inspirational VI runner, David Edwards, who is a regular runner and volunteer at Bournemouth (Kings Park) parkrun.  While Cliffe is sighted, he came up with the crazy idea of running blindfolded at ten different parkruns (taking on all nine parkrun venues in Dorset) on consecutive Saturdays, accompanied by me as VI guide.  David has joined us on some of the Blindfold Challenge parkruns, guided by other Blindfold Challenge VI guide team members Julia and James.

Durlston Country Park was the eighth in our challenge, and by some margin, it was definitely the most challenging for VI guide and VI runner.  I had to give constant commentary to Cliffe on the inclines, meandering paths, shallow bends, tight turns, changing terrain underfoot (tarmac, loose gravel, compacted stone, uneven tracks, bark chippings), protruding rocks, tree roots, dry-stone walls, low hanging branches) – and at times I was delivering the commentary while short of breath from coping with the steep uphill sections.  The only hiccup today was when Cliffe took a minor stumble towards the top of the uphill track on the first Tilly Whim loop caused by a rock protruding from the side of the path that I did not notice in time.

The amazing Purbeck coastline and backdrop to the Durlston parkrun

I remain full of admiration for Cliffe covering the 5km totally unsighted.  For anyone who has run Durlston Country Park parkrun, try to imagine doing it with your eyes closed for the whole time?

Please look deeper into this Blog for more information and donate to our fundraising effort by clicking on this link. Thank you for your interest, and to everyone in attendance at Durlston Country Park parkrun event #14, Cliffe and I would like to thank you all for your support and encouragement.

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