The Dogbreaker

Published in Running - 6 mins to read

The Dogbreaker is a trail running race in Guernsey, which starts in town before traversing the entirety of the cliff paths from the south east to the south west of the island, finishing at Portelet. It’s just over 25km in distance, with just under 1km of vertical gain. The race is so named because allegedly, upon completing the distance (I believe at some point in the 70s), some local legend of Guernsey running declared “this old dog is broken”.

Sadly the race isn’t until September, so I’m not going to have the opportunity to compete in it, but I did manage a slightly elongated version of the course, starting at my house - you can see the map of my run here.

When I did the marathon on Sunday, I felt pretty disappointed at the end. Most of the reason I felt that way is because I’d genuinely expected to enjoy most of the experience - I’d worked really hard following the training plan for months, and felt very physically prepared for the challenge. I’d read all the tips and tricks, watched all the first-time marathon Youtube videos, I was sure I had a solid nutrition strategy and general race plan, and I’d already made all the mistakes I thought there was to make in previous long runs. I thought I might start suffering at around 35km in, as that was going to be the first point of being really in the unknown for me, but even then, I didn’t think it would be that bad, and fully expected to finish strong and feel really happy once I finished. Part of the reason I fell apart emotionally in the middle was because (and yes, I know this is comedically stupid) I felt like the wind had robbed me of the experience I’d been looking forward to for weeks.

I really hoped that the Dogbreaker would be running’s redemption for me; it’s the other challenge I’ve had on my tick-list to do before leaving the island, and I wanted it to be a better way of saying goodbye to such a beautiful place than the marathon was. Also, after having signed up for both the North Down’s Way Marathon and the Ultra London 55km, I really needed a confidence boost in my ability to get through tough distances without an unnecessarily large amount of suffering being involved. Fortunately, today went much, much better, and turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be.

Firstly, I was definitely still a little bit fatigued from the weekend, which obviously isn’t great, and I knew it before I started. I considered bailing, but decided I’d better just go for it given a) the weather looked perfect and b) I had the day off work today, while everybody else didn’t, so it won’t be too busy. A lot of the paths are single track, and at the weekend a lot of people quite rightly make the most of them, but that obviously isn’t ideal for running. I set off fairly cautiously, planning on taking the whole thing relatively easily, aiming to finish with something left in the tank. I’ve only ever run the first 6k or so, and in my head, that was the hardest bit, which was sort of true. Certainly, the first half of the cliffs are a lot harder than the second, but I’m not sure the first quarter is the most difficult, despite culminating in the notoriously brutal climb up ~200 steps to Jerbourg point. As it turns out, there are plenty of other equally brutal stepped climbs, the one at Petit Bot sticks out in my memory. Anyway, the only info I had on my watch face was my heartrate, so I focused on trying to keep that as close to 160 as I could, making sure I walked up all the steps. Knowing I was going to be walking fairly significant parts of the trail meant that I could take solid food, which I was very excited about, given how sick I am of the gels I’ve been having. I went with a bag of Natural Confectionery Co’s jelly snakes, which are my absolute favourite thing in the world, and pretty great running fuel too - I ate one roughly every kilometre and had no energy issues at all.

The second quarter was probably the only bit that was a little dicey - it was threatening to rain, my legs were starting to get tired and I didn’t really know how much worse they were going to get, it was very up and down. Funnily enough, in some ways the vertical nature of it was a good thing, as it used different muscles in my legs, I ended up struggling a bit on the flats as my glutes were still sore from Sunday. By the time I got to the Gouffre though, I felt amazing. I felt strong, I was moving well, and mostly I was just enjoying it so much. I think the south coast of Guernsey is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, and I stopped every ten minutes to take a photo. I smiled the whole time, experiencing plenty of the fabled runners' high, and I was just so happy. It was everything I had wanted the marathon to be, but it wasn’t - I was so happy to get a second chance at it. I trained really hard in the marathon training block, getting up early, running in the rain, the hail, the dark, in below freezing temperatures, usually before breakfast, even if I really, really didn’t want to leave my bed. Today it all felt worth it; it was incredible feeling to feel like I have put in the work to get fit enough to just decide to go do this kind of thing, and for it not to be a total sufferfest.

And it was emotional in some ways too, but in a good way. I’m not going to miss a lot of things about Guernsey, but I will miss the sea and the cliffs dearly. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week worrying about having to say goodbye to people, something which I dread and in many ways would rather just not go through with, but today I felt like I said goodbye to the island itself. One of the things I have come to love about running is that I almost always run on my own, and it always feels like uninhibited “me time”, with no technology, no people, no distractions. Today it was just me and the best Guernsey had to offer, and that felt really special.

See other posts in the Marathons series