Race to the Stones 2019

This was my first Threshold event, and first ultra, so this is written very much from the rookie standpoint.

It’s worth noting how accessible this event is for a first timer.

It was all very obvious. The start, the information, the route, no real scope to get things drastically wrong, which is helpful if, like me, this is your first event of this kind.

It was also much slower paced, and certainly did not feel like a race.

The field of dreams is after the first checkpoint, at around 12km in.

Definitely a photo opportunity!

Feet

Our hot June and July meant it was pretty dusty, loads of people wore gaiters. Hard baked chalk and flint made cushioning a real must, as I found to my agonising cost. I started in hybrid Altras, but my Hoka Arahi would have been a far better early choice. I chose the Altras for grip and room for swelling in the toe box, and good grief did my feet swell!

I wear my trainers a half size up from my normal shoe size anyway, but for long hot events I’ll definitely be heading up another half size again.

Having got swollen and very bruised feet from the extremely hard surface and every step feeling like I don’t know what, I changed to Saucony Peregrine 7s at 73km, with fresh socks, which helped but of course the bruising and swelling was already there, so I had a little more protection but still very much regretted the poor early choice.

The other poor early choice worth mentioning is socks. I’ve been getting on well with CEP socks, and had been wearing a size lll, but wore in a pair of size ll before the event. Not even thinking about the sizing because they are all the same colours, I’d headed out in the size lls and found that they started to chafe my toes from about 20km in, making them pretty sensitive and me very jumpy as the pain from normal blisters is far easier to bear than from toe blisters, and I spent time at each checkpoint pulling the socks free of my toes to give more room.

My parents weren’t due to catch me up until 50km, and they had all my kit in a box in the car, so I didn’t have spare socks on me. In the event I saw them for an unscheduled hug at Goring, but totally forgot to sort the socks or the shoes at that point. Even though I thought I was feeling ok I think it illustrates how judgement can be affected.

I finally changed socks at 40km when I saw them again, but for some reason I stuck with the Altras at that point, I think my rationale was that the Altras were 0mm and both the trail and road shoes are 4mm drop, and I felt I should stick with what had worked so far. I did get a hot spot on the right heel at around 35km, but a patch on that at 40km lasted me through to the finish with no actual blistering.

I gave my feet a wet wipe down, air dry and fresh socks at 40km, which made a huge difference, I think, to keeping the skin intact, as well as further airings, change of shoes and socks on at least one occasion after that. I finished with a hotspot on the other heel but had decided not to stop after 90km for anything – I’d really had it by then!

Speaking of swelling, I was surprised to find my hands swelled too, from being held low in the heat, I tried to keep them up but you do look like a right ****, so I tried to do it surreptitiously….

I’d decided not to use the hydration pack because you can’t see how much you are drinking, and it is crucial to stay on top of hydration in an event like this. Instead I got two soft bottles (don’t like the sloshing you get with half empty bottles) and filled one with electrolyte and one with water. I tried to drink both between every checkpoint, although I moved to half an electrolyte tab a per 10km as they made me feel sick. I made sure to visit the porta loo every stop too and checked that I wasn’t dehydrated. As the heat went out of the day I cut back to just over half of my daytime water intake.

Meetups

I headed off from my last scheduled meet with family at 40km, having let them find me using the open tracker. They were great for moral support and for telling me I’m awesome – I didn’t believe them of course but it is nice to hear.

Tracking was easier for all of us despite costing £30, as it meant they could track me online in real time and meet at a road crossing. Crucially for me, it meant that I didn’t need to know where I was because for most of it the last thing I needed was to be trying to direct a car into a road crossing ahead of me! Later I met a chap who had been trying to arrange a rendezvous with his wife by text, she had missed him and he’d pressed on; possibly not great for marital harmony…..

It wasn’t my finest hour when I left checkpoint 4 having forgotten to pack the head torch. I had hat, gloves, long top and waterproof but no lights!

To their credit, none of my fellows pointed out I was heading the wrong way to catch the car before they left, and it was only an extra 1km but still.

The halfway camp at 50km, and CP5. Omg the noise. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I could hear it for miles and hours afterwards. I guess if it’s your thing then great but I wasnt in that zone at all. Between the DJ for the finishers and the loud motivational rock music – some people appeared to be gearing up for a party! Thinking back I should’ve got a pint and taken it with me, because the unofficial rave checkpoint was next and I could have done with the salts.

Here at the checkpoint after Waylands Smithy, possibly 6, as it starts to get pretty dark and much colder around 10.30. Met up with and said goodbye to my little sis and it was head torch from here until around 04.30 after checkpoint 9.

By the next checkpoint I had a jacket, buffs and gloves on too. I’d overestimated the amount of heat I’d produce, as had others judging by the silver blankets wrapped around many people!

I thought I would be running much more than I did. By 70km I’d added two buffs around the neck and made sure I kept eating and taking a hot drink at each stop. I tried to ensure I wrapped up before I started to feel cold. Once you’re cooling it’s very hard to catch up.

My phone had run out of battery, and my feet were crippling me at 73km, where we crossed the M4. Somehow my lovely crew got the telepathy and caught me up so I could change shoes, put leggings on and chug a coffee which made a massive difference to morale. They headed off to grab some kip at the finish and I plugged on up to the ridge. There are few places accessible to cars on that bit. There’s a stinker of a downhill at 78km btw, really tricky little track at a crazy angle down off the uplands to Ogbourne St George where the roman road, now the A4, crosses the ridgeway path.

Next time (!) for similar weather I’d have another long sleeved technical layer on as well. The trouble is that your back sweats against the pack when your front and arms need to warm. A balancing act as a wet sweaty top will chill you quickly.

On the subject of clothing, ladies, skorts are definitely where it’s at. Handy to pin your number on, and some lovely designs out there. I put up with the appalling quality shorts on mine (they ride up) because it has great pockets which none of the others seem to have.

Motivation

My worst time was dawn. I was bright and perky until I’d passed CP 90km, and it was the boredom of heading along the last 8km that really got me. Everything hurt, noone was around, I’d spent time chatting with various folks along the way but I really prefer my own company and very quickly run out of chat, and most people don’t seem to do companionable silence, but that bit was lonely. I couldn’t see Avebury and hadn’t reached the vile ruts in the track I’d been warned about. I had a bit of a low at that point. Slogging on was the game though and having a marker every km made such a difference. The signs say “xxkm. More is in you’. At each one I’d taken to saying ‘yep, more is in me, xxkm more’ (probably a good thing I was on my own!); knowing its 90% mental certainly helps.

Coming into the finish I was met by my son, who did his best and failed to make me run in, but awarded me with my medal and presented me with the hoodie I’d bought, saying loudly ‘at least you don’t have to write DNF on it do you?’ (I had resigned myself to doing that, and it also kept me going – whatever works eh?)

Absolutely shattered!

Logistics

I headed up the night before with my my parents and my youngest, to camp at a lovely forestry site, Postern Hill, near Marlborough – be warned there were no showers so wet wipes were a must. This was about 8 miles from the finish at Avebury.

The original plan and logistics were blown out of the water by life events. This event is incredibly well managed and supported, although I found the website areas a bit frustrating on mobile, and you can rack up the additional costs pretty quickly too.

The alternative, doing it on my own, would definitely involve parking at the finish, getting the bus to the start and a good few hours kip in the car before heading home after finishing.

I got 2hours sleep when I got back to the campsite before having to pack the tent and head off, and fell asleep at least 10 times in the car while supposedly being in charge of the map reading, and zonked on arrival home.

I did this to raise money for charity, as a way of dealing with an expected loss. It helped to remember why I’d decided to do this when things felt tough at 92km.

The event registration fee is less when you go straight through rather than stopping to camp, although my reason to go straight through was the certainty that I wouldn’t want to start a second 50km when stiff from the first, as well as feeling I should do a harder challenge to raise money for Marie Cuire. My new reason is to avoid the base camp, but next time I’ll remember to pick up a beer on the way through!

My folks dropped me at the finish as parking there had sold out by the time my life had stabilised enough to make arrangements for RTTS, I caught the shuttle bus to the start in Lewknor (£25). I do consider that a reasonable cost – it gave time to rest, digest breakfast, apply suncream and not stress about the horrendous queues all the way from the motorway to the start field. We were late due to the traffic and I missed my wave but since it was out of my control I joined the next one with a clear conscience. Getting the bus from the finish to the start meant no worrying about getting the bus from the finish to the start at the end of the event when exhausted.

I would recommend this event as an entry to the world of ultras. It’s hard enough going such a distance without having to worry about food drink and nav as well. I didn’t need medics and perhaps that’s a fair bit of luck as well as preparation and awareness.

By the Weds I was recovered from the initial DOMS and a week later I’m thinking about the RTTK for next year. I won’t be back running for another week at least as my body adjusts, or at least until the swollen feet (check them out) go down 😆

Eden Project 2018 (first) Half Marathon Race

So after 20+ weeks of training, having come from pretty much nothing; today I completed my first Half.

It has proved to me that working slowly towards a big goal makes something which initially seemed unachievable, perfectly possible.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not been straightforward getting to this point, and my posts so far on this blog spend time reflecting on some of the challenges along the way.

The shoe saga, for example, eventually culminated in these beauties, after I found a local running shop that does gait analysis and got my shit sorted – like running on cushions, lovely!

I’ve nothing to compare it with, but today seemed really well organised. The instructions and rules were clear, registration packs and comms went out pre-race. The course was well signed and marshalled by St Austell Running Club and the water and aid stations well placed. It was lovely to be encouraged along by smiley faces and the station with the Croc and the mannikin definitely won the character award!

It was strange to run with other people – all my training has been alone – and with that number of people running I shouldn’t have been surprised that bottlenecks occurred on the trail sections, slowing us all to a frustrated walk as we ducked a tree across the path, or negotiated a narrow muddy corner!

In addition to ducking trees, storm Callum had left us another particularly lovely present – two sections of totally flooded road. I’d got somewhat muddy on the trail but was smugly thinking that I’d at least kept my feet dry. Not to be!

I did end up walking some hills which I had planned to avoid doing, but it seemed to make sense as power walking up the hill wasn’t really much slower than my keep running pace, and it certainly used less energy.

At mile 12 I was confident it was downhill all the way, and started to accelerate, finding to my dismay, that there were still uppy sections left to run! Once they were conquered we joined the downhill zigzag to the finish and I hammered in to find a line time of 2hr 25.05, a fantastic experience to cross the finish line with people cheering!

I earned that medal I reckon – and managed to drop my new white t-shirt on the floor within 5 minutes – but all’s well when a pasty and a pint of Tribune are waiting at the end.

We heard at the awards that an operational hitch (ahem) had affected the leaders and caused some head scratching for the organisers but it was sorted by the time us slower folk arrived……

It’s time to think about the next one – I’ve worked too hard and learned too much about myself to want to let it all go now.

The question now is – longer or faster?