I’m not really a runner, it’s just something that I started doing at the end of 2016 to improve my physical and mental well being. But I got a bit hooked, more for the mental benefits, with the physical improvements being an added bonus.
Roll forward to New Year’s Eve 2017 and me and my good friend Jackie (a much more accomplished runner than me) drunkenly discussed the Race to the Stones, the 100km ultra along the Ridgeway from Oxfordshire to Avebury. Next thing I knew, we had signed up…and also persuaded another running buddy Susan to join us. 100km over 2 days with a night’s camping in between, what’s not to like? And July was a long way off at that stage anyway.
The training programme appeared in February…this started another journey for me as coincidentally Kerry had written the programme so our paths crossed in April when I joined the Tuesday morning running group in addition to some fortnightly PT sessions.
The training seemed easy to start with but the miles soon stacked up…I really was always running! Fitting in around work and childcare and if I wasn’t running, I was thinking about my next run. Planning the routes was fun but sometimes the normal out, round and back route was fine. Sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own.
It all was fairly relentless though, from February to July, peaking at around 70km per week with the final ‘big push’ being two 30km back to back runs. But it was fun, I enjoyed it. I had my ultra hydration vest, my electrolytes, my protein powders and my large supply of Compeed. I did stick quite religiously to Kerry’s programme but realised I needn’t beat myself up if I missed a session along the way. I did bomb out one weekend when I just needed to rest, but hey, missing two 20km runs wasn’t going to make me fail. And in the week before the event, I felt ready, seemingly fully prepared and very excited.
It’s difficult preparing for something that you’ve never done before as you have very little to go on. Of course you can get advice from people who have done the same or similar things, but it’s just not the same. So a certain amount of blissful ignorance and winging it will inevitably be involved.
The summer was one of, if not THE hottest on record so it was no surprise that it was forecast to be around 30 degrees on the race weekend.
They say that you should never do anything different on race day to what you’ve been doing in training…that’s all very well except when you are about to run further than you have ever run in your whole life! I’d only ever done 30km twice before so after that was the complete unknown. The problem with 30km is that it’s still another 20km to go until the finish…it’s actually quite a daunting thought.
The start was in a farm field somewhere off the M40. It all seemed such fun and there was a slightly nervous excitement about the place. Bags dropped off, last loo visit done, shoe laces double knotted…8am and we’re off! It was so easy for the first few kilometres, just like our normal Saturday park run really. First pit stop after around 10km, all very pleasant, what’s the big deal? Running through woodland, lots of shade but from the 30km pit stop, we rose up onto the chalk Ridgeway and carried on for another 20km in the blistering sun, temperatures peaking around 30 degrees. The path was rutted, narrow, reflectively white, dusty and simply never ending!
We finished day 1 around 3pm after 7 hours on the go and we were so glad to see the base camp. Again, everything was so well organised, our tents were ready, we had a sports massage, cup of tea, cake, pasta, had my blisters attended to, did a yoga session, dinner, shower, small beer and bed by 9pm. But sore, sore legs and sore feet…with the prospect of doing exactly the same tomorrow.
Awake at 4.30am, ready for a 5.30am start, slightly delayed by Susan dropping her phone down the loo…
So finally off on day 2 by 6am, another beautiful day in store with sky high temperatures. 50km now seemed like a very long way. I hit a very low point at 76km, it all got a bit much. I sat down on a rutted track for a bit, taped my feet and had a cry. It was all so daunting at that point as I realised I had as far to go as we’d already been that day and I was seriously hurting!
But after a quick chat to myself (and a spookily very timely ‘you can do it’ message from Kerry!), I managed to regroup and was chivvied along by two other fellow runners who just appeared alongside me…It really did encapsulate the totally friendly atmosphere of the whole event.
How I finished I’m not sure but we did, so relieved…day 2 took just over 8 hours. Did it feel like a huge sense of achievement? Not really but it did slowly sink in over the next week or so.
I spent the hour long drive home with my feet in a bag of ice, and then needed to be helped from the car to the house as I had completely seized up!
The results were posted by the evening and I was very proud to have finished well up the field (52nd out of 365 female finishers) and particularly well for my age group (24th out of 143 finishers in the V40 female category). Not too shabby considering that I am right at the upper limit of the V40 category!
Overall, the Race to the Stones event was a brilliant ultra for a first timer – it was so well organised that apart from physically carrying us along the route, they couldn’t have done more for us. A total recommendation for anyone wanting to attempt a ‘cosseted’ ultra!
Things I have learnt during this ‘adventure’
Breaking up a long distance into shorter sections is absolutely essential. You can’t contemplate 50km in one go, it’s just too far when you are at KM1 (or even KM35!). Fortunately, there were pit stops roughly every 10km which helped, though some were 8km apart (hurrah!) but others were up to 12km apart (psychologically damaging!). You can never do too much training, but don’t overtrain!
It will be a bit different to how you imagine, don’t overthink it.
It is a physical challenge, but don’t underestimate the mental challenge (but see the point above!)
You will most likely lose toenails. I now only have 3 left…
Marmite sandwiches and flat coke with a bit of salt in will become obsessions. It is brutal.
This whole experience for me was a bit like childbirth…the pain at the time was excruciating and immediately afterwards I vowed never ever to do it again. But after a week or so, the pain memory subsides and now I’m at the ‘ok so it wasn’t really so bad and this is what I’d do differently next time’ stage! Watch this space…