I approached Race to the Stones in my usual way – under prepared and overconfident in my ability!
RTTS is 100km (62 miles) and is no mean feat! It would be the 4th longest run of my life (assuming I made it) but I was surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing. Because I’d run further on other occasions, I just assumed I’d be awesome (hubris!) Also I had so many friends running it that I was just really excited about the whole thing. My training had been a bit patchy at best – I’d managed to up my mileage to around 100-150 miles a month and had done a couple of 18 milers but I was definitely a bit short on the longer runs. Despite all this I was confidently predicting I’d run it in between 12 and 14 hours and even booked my shuttle back to the start at 10pm (which would be 14 hours after my start time). I had my kit sorted and for once wasn’t carrying any niggles so I got to the start line feeling on top of the world – I was going to smash this!
Race organisation for this event is spot on considering it’s an ultra-distance on trails with about 2,500 runners everything ran really smoothly. Staggered starts, easy parking, cool event village, simple bag drop – lots of massive ticks there. I bumped into so many cool people and was bantering with my friends Emma and David at the start, literally brimming with confidence. Some of our previous speakers were there too – Twice the Health, Luke Tyburski and Ben 401 – they were all on great form and I was so chipper that I almost forgot the race was starting! The hooter sounded and off we went!
For the first few miles I stuck with Emma as I hadn’t seen her in ages and we were chatting as we plodded along at a fairly gentle pace. She’s a lot faster than me normally but she graciously ran at my pace which was nice and easy and she’s such fun to chat to that the time just skipped by. In no time at all we were joined by Luke, Hannah and Emily (Twice the Health) and we stayed together as a mini group for a few more easy miles. Now these guys are proper runners and WAY quicker than me but it was so nice chatting with them that I upped my pace a bit and kept with them for the first quarter of the race. I was literally having the best time, loads of banter and met a few more people on the route like Andy (chubs2ridgeway) on the way round. The banter was great, the scenery was epic and the aid stations were regular. I was feeling super confident but little did I know that the wheels were about to fall off big time!
The temperature was slowly creeping up and I was sweating lots, I’m really fair skinned and as a bigger guy I do struggle in the heat. I had plenty of sunblock on, salts etc but I’d elected to only take 2 x 500ml bottles on my pack and left the bladder behind. Normally that would be fine but with the benefit of hindsight, given the heat (and humidity), I should have packed the bladder or carried an extra 500ml somewhere. I checked my watch around 12 miles and realised I was going a bit quick so dropped back from the guys and decided to go solo for a bit and try and save something for the end. I started to really struggle to control my temperature and I was sweating loads, to make matters worse all the people that I’d breezily been flying past were now passing me which was really demoralising. I was slipping back and slowing massively. The smart thing to do at this point was to stop and walk for a bit, cool down, eat and hydrate… but I’m not that smart! I pushed on, determined that I wouldn’t be beaten, I didn’t need to listen to what my body was telling me – I’ve done this before, I’m better than this, I just need to grind it out. How wrong I was!
I got up to 20 miles and was maintaining at about 12 mins per mile which was my target but I was just getting hotter and hotter, David caught me up and we ran for a little bit but I was not doing great and he had his own race to run so he skipped on ahead of me quite quickly. Finally it dawned on me that I should probably just re-frame and switch to plan B (just finish the race!) I dropped down to a walk for a bit and started guzzling fluids and eat the snacks I had with me. The aid stations were packed full of everything you could need but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any of it – I wasn’t having trouble eating I just decided that I didn’t like it and for some reason became the fussiest eater of all time! This is where things go wrong for me in ultras, a bad decision leads to another bad decision and it’s dominos – I really need to start making smart decisions earlier in the race rather than when I’m falling apart! If it wasn’t for the amazing Susie Chan there is no way I would’ve finished at all. Susie is an ultra-running legend and has seen it all before – she kept sending me message checking on my progress and reminding me to eat which really helped. I become a giant baby on these sort of races and having the support and knowledge of someone like Susie is invaluable.
I got through the 50k in 6hrs 54, more than an hour slower than I’d anticipated. I’d walked a bit and I was starting to get me head back again. The 50k aid station is a great opportunity to rest and reframe – there is a big cool tent with free hot food as well as the usual awesome goodies. I had a 30 minute sit down, ate some pasta and drank lots of water. I was starting to feel a bit better and headed back to the course to get through the second half of the race. I saw my friend Debs here as she skipped in to complete her 50k looking fresh as a daisy! My default when I’m in trouble is to eat and I ate WAY too much at that stop! It was sitting really heavy in my stomach, which basically kept me to a steady walk for the next couple of miles, but my body felt fine and my confidence was starting to come back. Normally my calf muscles are aching by this point but I’ve got some Kymira calf sleeves which seem to work for me and have eliminated my usual injury issues. My shoulders are normally really knotted by this point but I was doing a lot more stretching than usual and that seemed to be making a big difference. I was still in this. Maybe I could pick up the lost time on the way back? I event started to contemplate a negative split! Hmmmm…..
Once I’d given myself 30 mins or so from my massive pasta lunch I started to run again and I just couldn’t. I’d take about 4 strides and my temperature would skyrocket and I’d be pouring with sweat. It was weird, I literally couldn’t string more than 3 or 4 steps together. I kept trying but it wasn’t happening. I was really in trouble now, staggering around the trail a bit and not really on the planet. A couple more of my friends passed me looking breezy and confident but I was not happy and starting to get into a full blown ultra-strop! I wanted to shout at someone, cry, anything to get rid of this frustration – it just wasn’t fair! Now I’m not sure what exactly wasn’t fair or why I was so grumpy at everyone and everything but I spent a good few miles stomping / staggering along angrily trying to work out whose fault it was that my race had spiralled into oblivion! I felt like quitting but somehow just carried on stropping along like a moody teenager.
After a few miles I bumped into a guy called Jonny – he was a great lad and we got chatting. This is what I love about ultras, people are so friendly and there is a real community spirit – we did a bit of running and a bit of walking and things started to pick up. I wasn’t stropping any more and it was getting cooler so I wasn’t finding running as hard any more. We met each other a few more times throughout the race, he was a bit quicker than me but it was great to have a friendly face at the aid stations and for a couple of miles here and there.
My pace had gone completely and I’d just reframed that I wanted to finish, but I was moving easily and I was cooling down. I spent two hours in aid stations at this race, mostly in the second half. I was having a little sit down and a snack at each one and starting to enjoy the journey again. I need to remind myself of this next time, stop, re-set, go again. The Threshold Sports logo says More is in You and it was ringing around my head as I was moving along.
Coupled with the stunning scenery I was feeling pretty flipping inspired – whatever happened I would cross that line even if it was on hands and knees! The bonus of being slower than I’d hoped was that I got to see the sunset which was stunning, I cant really describe how amazing it was and the picture I took doesn’t do it justice but it was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.
Shortly after, the head torch was on and I started running with a really nice lady called Karen who had a goal to finish before midnight. It was touch and go whether she’d make it but we were going at the same pace and decided to stick together and get the last bit done together. We picked up a guy called Ryan and the 3 of us became a little crack team monitoring the pace and with a goal to get Karen over the line in her target time. It was great, the teamwork element gave me a massive lift, I’d managed to cool myself down and my legs had loads left in them so we got cracking! Those last 10k were amazing – the terrain gets a bit tricky and there is a slightly annoying bit where you have to actually run past the finish, in a short loop up to the stones and then back to the finish but I didn’t care a jot. The banter was back and our little group was working together really well to get a steady and consistent pace going.
I crossed the line in 15:59:33 (just before midnight) and was greeted with a free hot meal and an awesome medal. I had a proper runners high and I felt amazing (although I definitely need to work on my finish line pose as the photo is awful!!!) I’d missed my shuttle back because I was so much slower than planned but Karen’s husband very kindly drove me back to my car and I passed out asleep most of the way back – I was so happy but I was DONE!
The next day I woke up and I was bright red (as if I had sunburn but I didn’t) – I think it was something to do with dehydration as I had a pounding headache for a few days afterwards. Upon reflection that was really stupid and I need to take better care of myself in hot conditions. I’ve resolved to go and do a proper sweat test and get a tailored hydrations strategy for my next ultra. I’m also going to give myself an option to carry more water in future if it is hotter than I’m used to and hopefully learn from this.
The race was amazing – beautiful, clearly signed, friendly and well supported – definitely one I’d recommend! Yes I was slower than I’d hoped and sure I spent about 1/3 of the race in a full on strop but I was really proud of myself for getting it done. When you look back on these races, the bad things never seem quite so bad but the good bits seem even better!