Race to the Stones – Joe’s view

Well… what a weekend! That was a bit different; I knew it would be a tough challenge, but I can safely say I completely underestimated Race to the Stones. Completing 100km over 2 days… 50km per day of trail running… a marathon plus 8k… How hard can it be?

Why challenge yourself to your first Ultra Marathon, when you can tick off 2 in a weekend?

start
When Saturday morning came with temperatures in the early 20’s at 7.30am, rising to (unconfirmed) early 30’s on the hot roads and chalk trails, I suddenly realised how big a challenge it was. Setting off in the wave before Debbie and Vicky, I trotted off nice and steadily chatting to Tammy, who was taking on the full 100k in one day (madness). At about 5km I started to feel just how hot it was and that was after doing marathons in Paris and Lisbon last year with even sillier temperatures.

The trail aspect of the course made life more challenging which I expected, but due to a lack of preparation, I didn’t expect the brutal hills that started early in the day and I was surprised to find myself walking 3 times before getting to the first Pit Stop at 11km.

As with all the Pit Stops, they were full of food and drinks to replace the energy that was being left on the course, with friendly and encouraging people manning the stops with water sprays to try and cool people down. Without these and the supportive nature of all the other competitors out on the course, there was no way I would get round the course.

day 1

From 30km to 40km it felt like every step was up hill and I found myself limping along with cramp in both calves, I actually found it easier to walk sideways for a period as it was the only way to make the cramp stop, but after eating a few bags of Jelly Tots and drinking lots of water, it seemed to disappear so I could at least start moving properly again.

As I said earlier, it was only an extra 8km on top of a marathon, but it still took me almost double the time of my last marathon to get round the course, at just under 6 hours. After crossing the line for Day 1, I wandered straight into the sport massage tent where I needed 30 minutes to get me moving again (thankfully there wasn’t a queue as I should’ve only had 10). After this I retreated to the chill-out tent in the shade, with lots of water and a cold beer; this is when I started to think about how I could back out and avoid repeating the torture the next day.

Later in the afternoon Debbie and Vicky came in, and I distracted myself by taking on the role of personal assistant for them both; sorting out the tents for the night, booking them sport massages, fetching lots of water and sugar while they recovered. By the evening we sat down for some food and tried to work out how to do it again tomorrow.

After as much as I could eat and drink, it was off to bed at 9.30, as we had planned an early start to beat the heat on Sunday. So at 5am and we’re all up and about, I was enjoying a lovely cup of tea (or three),a Bacon Sarnie and Croissants, before getting ready to get out. I was feeling much better than the previous evening, but planned and expected to be walking most of the second day.

day2

The start of the Day 2 route had about 500 meters down hill, so I thought I would jog that and see how the legs were feeling; it wasn’t quick, but I found myself still trundling along at the first pit stop (10km), so after more sugar, flat coke, fruit and anything else I could find, I set off and managed to run again, getting myself to pit stop 2 (20km), where I had to stop and tape my toes up (I didn’t do a good job) and had to get one of the medics at the next Pit Stop to redo my handy work; not surprisingly it worked this time.

The early start definitely helped, but my body had recovered a lot better than I expected from Day 1 and although running slower, I think I ran more than on Day 1. I got to the 90km mark and started to feel confident I had this sorted and there was even a nice downhill…. Saying that, Race to the Stones wouldn’t let me win and around 95k the track was so uneven I had to walk, as on tired legs, I didn’t feel safe continuing to run on the rutted uneven path.

Finally, I could hear the finish commentary and hadn’t been paying attention to the km signs. I hit the road and thought I was nearly done… wrong, they had added in an evil 1km out and back to see the stone circle. The marshal said ‘carry up the hill to the stones and then come back and see me’ and I thought she was joking … I was wrong. I got up to the Stones did a little lap and of course there was a photographer who, as with all the others, was happy to offer encouragment and have a chat as I went past.

I got back to the marshal and this time she pointed me to the finish; I was determined to keep running all the way in despite having to run up another grassy hill. Then with a left turn onto a solid road, I could see the finish and it was downhill!

It seemed to go on for about an hour, and I passed the 100km sign, but there was still more and  the last bit was up hill. This seemed very unnecessary but I kept running and got across the line. Don’t know why, but I got emotional going past the 100km sign, but once I crossed the line all I wanted was to sit in a dark room.

Luckily a shaded room was on hand, so found myself with a medal round my neck, dozing off in a farm shed with lots of other broken people. Again it took me just under 6 hours to get round, but I felt a lot more controlled on the Sunday, and from the photos below, much happier after getting my medal than after Day 1 when there was no medal and I felt broken. The former was more the norm after a marathon and Debbie had requested a photo if there were tears after Day 1.

I can safely say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I have said never again (although I said that with marathons). It was brutal and painful, there were many tears and lots of swearing. However somehow I came in 17th out of 650 people doing it over 2 days, so however hard I found it, I must have done something right. I have no idea how anyone could get round in one go, I wouldn’t have been able to leave basecamp, but at the end I was speaking to a group who had got round in just over 28 hours and they seemed to have enjoyed it as well!!!

finish

Now for the Nostell 10km tonight; I’ve been getting quicker each year for the last three years.. I think that will end this today.

As always, any donations for the MS Trust more than welcome here.

Thank you for reading, until the next time….

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