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The Dorset Invader – a race around Sherborne

For anyone who loves to trail run around the prettiest parts of Dorset, it’s worth taking a look at White Star Running’s Dorset Invader race weekend. Here, Andy Palmer explains more about the event and the race company.  

The race origins

This race originally started at East Farm in Winterborne, Whitechurch, a few years ago. We offered a trail marathon and half-marathon in the summer with hills and heat. The name, Dorset Invader, comes from the fact that East Farm was the area where General Vespasian camped in the invasion of Dorset in 45AD.

After a few fun years at East Farm, the Dorset Invader moved to the Pilsden area in West Dorset, where worked with the National Trust to run over some of the biggest hills in the south of England. During the marathon there was a pub at half-way – getting runners out of there was hard work!

In 2019 I was approached by Rob Harris to see if we could put on an event in the village of Longburton, Sherborne. Admittedly, I had to Google it. Within about an hour of walking round the countryside together, Rob and I had come up with an idea for a race weekend and the newly relocated Dorset Invader was born.

I asked Rob to tell us a bit more from his side of the story. He says: “Growing up in Longburton and having been a runner in my younger days, it’s always been my ambition to be able to bring a trail running event to this area of Dorset. It has such outstanding unspoiled natural beauty, steeped in history and folk law.

“Longburton has its own special unique challenges. It has such great views of Sherborne and the Blackmore Vale, and it has so many natural assets that only we, as locals to the area, would know about. King Charles I and the time of the Civil War is repeatedly hidden in every oak tree around the area; several houses in the village still bear axe marks from the Parliamentarians hacking doors down trying to find the King. There are old secret World War II airbases and training camps where the allied forces used to camp in the fields – the same ones we will be camping in – before the D-Day landings.

The idea of the event was just a chat in the pub in Longburton between a few friends. Becky, the landlord of the Rose & Crown, said what an amazing opportunity it would be to put on a running event to bring people into the village and show them the amazing countryside we have around the area. I was doing the White Star Running Crafty Fox half-marathon the next day. Talking to Becky about White Star Running, I said it would be the only events company I’d want to work with. I’d done several of the races and they have a real emphasis on fun, the events are family orientated and where else would you find a Lovestation™?

The Lovestation is normally the last aid station before the last few miles of the race, and it’s slightly different to your normal aid station. Instead of the usual energy drinks, a few nuts and some snacks, a Lovestation usually consists of cakes, sausage rolls, Scotch eggs and an obligatory half pint of beer to help you summon the strength for the last few miles! Then there are the relay races, which are called a Frolic, and involve teams or individuals running in fancy dress and using squeaky chickens or cows as the relay batten for eight hours or more!

I really wanted to bring something to the area that is good for the village. I’ve been working with Andy to collaborate with local artists, chase people, talk to landowners and the pub to try and keep the event similar to the successful Giants Head Marathon in the Dorset village of Sydling Saint Nicolas, which is a true village event. As Sherborne doesn’t have a large sporting event, the Dorset Invader was something that we could bring to Longburton that would help revive the fortunes of the village once again after a long hard year of Covid-19. It’s now given the villagers something to look forward to and welcome people to.

The dream started to become a reality when I began talking to Andy, Mike Tizzard – a huge thank you to Mike for lettings us use the land to help start the events planning – and Mark Doggerel, who were all happy to help with facilities to bring the ideas to reality and the Dorset Invader was reborn. The Dorset Invader is a truly local community event now. I have my next-door neighbour making the trophies, I have the pub involved with keeping everybody fed and watered, and we even have the vicar and the church bells starting the races. The most important thing for me was being able to contribute to cancer charities on behalf of Kim Gingell, a friend who I grew up with and who liked her running.”

How the Dorset Invader races work

At White Star Running, we have races called ‘Frolics’. Frolics are relay races for teams of two, three or four runners. Teams compete for the most distance run between them within a 12-hour time limit. We also have spaces for solo runners who want to challenge themselves to run as much as they can in the time allowed. It’s all fun and inclusive – even if you want to turn up and run just one lap, grab your goody bag and relax in the sun, that’s perfectly fine. The area around Longburton lends itself well to a race like this as it’s really flat (quite unusual for us). Running down Watery Lane will be fun if you know it!

The day after the Frolic event, we are also putting on a trail half-marathon and 10k race. On the Monday, as it’s a bank holiday, there will be a fun family race, which we call a ‘Chaos race’ (for reasons that become quite clear on the day!) and we donate the profits of this to a local charity.  

Part of our success is down to local knowledge and our partners. Rob has lived in Longburton most of his life, and he has developed three lovely routes for us. We have a local potter Victoria (Rob’s next-door neighbour) making all our winners’ prizes. All the food and drink will be supplied at the superb village pub by Becky and the team.

We expect about 1,000 runners over the weekend. We hope we have found a new permanent home for the Dorset Invader. Sherborne is a beautiful area and perfect for runners over any distance. We hope to expand in 2022, with another race weekend, perhaps including a full trail marathon too.

Find out more about the Dorset Invader races here:

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