• Andrew Caley

The Oner


For those of you that don't know The Oner is widely classed as one of the toughest ultra marathons in the UK. Now technically speaking an ultra marathon is anything over a typical marathon distance (26.2 miles) but The Oner is no ordinary ultra. It takes places on the beautiful Jurassic Coast line of Dorset from Charmouth to Swanage, a total distance of 82 miles or approximately three back to back marathons. Now that is a challenge in itself but the terrain is far from forgiving as anyone that has walked the Jurassic Coastline will tell you, the runners will climbing over 8000ft during their journey which is the equivalent of running up Snowdon, twice!!

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Not to mention dealing with the tricky under foot conditions that comes with the terrain, so a twisted ankle is never far away. Oh and to cap it all off this has to be done in a 24 hour time period and you have to run all the way through the night! Fancy signing up yet?

Four photos merged together all at 2secs, f22, ISO-100

This photo story follows one particular runner, Stewart Pearce (no. 63). Stewart was a regular guy from Narbeth Pembrokeshire who has been on a transforming journey over the last 10 years. Ten years ago he was the wrong side of twenty stone and a far cry from the slender 14 stone man today. During these ten years he has officially got the running bug, having completed Pembrokeshire Coastal Challanenge, Brecon to Cardiff Ultra marathon and multiple other local marathons but throughout his journey there has always been one crowning jewel, The Oner.

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Pre-Race

With spirits high on race morning Stewart and running partner Darren headed off from the campsite to race HQ at the Ferry Bridge Pub for kit checks and pre-race briefing.

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With the nature of the race Brutal Events put a major emphasis on safety, with a mandatory kit list to cover every eventuality.

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Even with the safety briefing detailing what to do in the instance of serious injury or getting lost during the night there was still room for some smiles!

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The Race

With weather conditions short of perfect, there was even a tail wind; all the competitors were as ready as they could be with some pre event nerves starting to show.

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On the stroke of 12pm the race begins into the unknown for all the competitors.

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One of the characteristics of The Oner is the seemingly endless hills, which start almost immediately. One of the first major climbs is overlooking the picturesque West Bay. I had pre visualised a shot over looking West Bay as I knew it meant allot to Stewart as it was a childhood holiday location, so I knew I had to get up the hill in time to set up ready for their arrival. Wasn't much fun with all my gear but needless to say I don't think the runners enjoyed it either or had time to enjoy the view!

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This was the final edit of my pre-visualised shot over West Bay, unfortunately due to the weather it was crazy busy even at the top of the hill so ended up with a few too many members of the public which takes away from the image but this might be a good Photoshop exercise to see if I can clone stamp them out.

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The Brual Events team do a great job in supporting the runners throughout the event with plenty of super sweet tea and high carb food....

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...but they can't give the runner the kind of support from a loving wife!

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A final wave before the long slog up and around Portland Bay, still looking fresh with 2 marathons under their belts.

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Portland Bay offered up an amazing view of the sun set as the runners rounded the headland and headed back into Weymouth knowing that the long night stint was not far off...

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The night section of The Oner is part of the appeal of the event but also the most daunting part of the race as it pushes the runners to the physical and navigational limits and it the most likely part for people to start dropping out of the event. For me though as a photographer it was the time I was most looking forward to as it allowed me to experiment with different techniques and capture some more dramatic portraits of runners gathering their thoughts at the check points.

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As any long distance runner will know your feet taking a pounding even during a road marathon so it was not a surprise to see Darren struggling with blisters. Unfortunately his were forming under his toe nails!!

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With the commitment to the race and to his team mate Darren wasted no time in having the blistered drained to release the pressure but this was unfortunately the theme of their luck over the next few hours.

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After a final navigation check they heading (or hobbled) back into the night.

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I knew I had to set up well in advance to get the next shot due to not knowing when the runners would arrive. So I started off trying out a couple of different compositions and ended up with using the Lulworth Cove steps as a leading line as I knew the head torches would cause a light trial with the slow shutter speed of five seconds. I knew I wanted to freeze the runners at some point during the exposure and only had one chance to capture the image, so set up my SB-700 off camera and manually popped the flash when I thought the runners were in the right position in the frame.

Photo information 5 secs, f5, ISO-3200

This was the final image I managed to capture as after this checkpoint Darren’s conditions get to the point when their pace had to slow to a walk and the darkness claimed a number of victims from navigation errors resulting in them missing the cut off point.

If you run long enough you are bound to experience a DNF sooner or later which is always hard to swallow, but part of that journey is learning how to bounce back and bounce back they will. With 2016 tickets already purchased and training well underway am already looking forward to next year’s event!


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© 2020 by Andrew Caley Photography, Bourton on the Water based photographer