Race to the Stones, 2019 – Review

My thighs are aching…

My ankles have been painful for hours …

I don’t know how my knees are still quiet and not complaining like a 5 year old that can’t have an ice cream every time the ice cream van jingle can be heard outside…

Then the next thing I see is ’95Km ‘More is in you”. A Park run, that’s all that’s left. 5Km. Never before had 5Km seemed like such a welcome distance. That said I was still on an elevated section of the Ridgeway, with a 3Km loop out and back to some Sarson stones at Avebury before I reach the finish arch, so at some point this race is going to head down hill …

So with 5Km to go, the last previous 95Km flies through my mind. I get that tight feeling across my face that normally precedes some form of blubbering wreck appearing, its like the Hulk but less green and nowhere near as menacing.

What have I done?

How the hell has this happened, I’ve been out on this track for 12 1/2 hours and it’s nearly over, nearly 100Km, with just short pit stops. No massive break, no 3 hour rest with Pizza and coffee.

My journey started some hours ago and this is my story of the Stones 2019.

It’s 5:15am, I’m in my running gear but its nearly 3 hours until I’m going to be running. I spend the next few minutes putting tape on my feet to help protect from the possibility of blisters. Fill my socks with talc and finally complete getting ready. My bag was packed 12 hours ago, full of food, water, salt tablets, sugar tablets, head torch, recharging power banks and many other things that I wouldn’t ever need, but ‘better to be safe than sorry’!

I live 35 minutes from the start line which is really cool, logistics plans are that my wife and two youngest will drop me off before the start (about 7:15), hopefully meet me near Uffington White Horse Hill (about 40 miles in) and then my wife alone will be back whenever to meet me if and when I finish. I have no clue of when that’ll be. I start at 7:55am. The closest estimate on my ability to run this race is a 50Km training run that took me 5-5 1/2 hours. This race though is hillier and obviously twice as long. I would love a sub 12 hour run, I’d happily take sub 14, I’d prefer to finish before it’s too dark, but bloody hell man, this is 100Km, be grateful to survive it!!!! Fair point.

The Course

So the course is predominantly along the Ridgeway, but not exclusively, There are some minor diversions to make the distance work. Overall the run is a mix of every surface you can think of to expect on a trail run. Some excellent woodland in the first third, nice shady cover, lots of roots and trees to avoid, and some paths with a few steep drops to the side. I heard one story about a chap that lost his footing and slid down the slope into a tree- I hope he’s OK!

There’s some sections of road, mainly through the villages in Wiltshire and around Goring & Streatley. Nothing too excessive but road none the less. The roads are open as well so there’s the added spice of dodging traffic in theory – however don’t fret, the roads are quiet and cars are infrequent – it was pretty good.

The majority of the route is hard packed footpath, mud, grass, chalk and gravel. The Ridgeway has a reputation for rutted paths and lived up to this reputation quite nicely in many places.

The Hills

There are some. This is the flatter of the three Threshold Series routes apparently, but my Garmin logged 1500m of elevation, so nearly a mile – not a minor thing. Much of the route is undulating – there are few stretches that are simply flat. There are some big hills too. Just after Pit Stop 3 was a tricky one, completing the stretch out of Goring and onto the more exposed route of the Ridgeway track around Compton. There’s also the hill at Compton Gallops (around 40Km in). The Ridgeway then throws hills in as it feels like it. Dragon Hill near Uffington White Horse is a tough one, given the fact you’ve done 40 miles at that point. There’s also no denying that the elevation plot suggest a killer hill just before Pit Stop 9. This turns out to be a bit misleading. plenty of elevation yes, but much more gradual in my mind than expected. By that time though there was little running left in the legs for any kind of upward travel!

Elevation with Pit Stops

Post pit stop 9 look like a pretty good run in, down hill. But there’s more hills and drops until just after 95Km when there is thankfully a healthY down hill, leading to the Stones and ultimately the end.

The Pit Stops

The facts – There are 9 (including base camp). They have water, food, medics and toilets as well as a space to sit and recharge. But they are also so much more than that. The people manning them were fab. They were helping people by getting refreshments to them, making tea, sandwiches etc whatever you wanted. They would offer cold water sprays to those looking a bit hot and bothered – and these are so helpful and beneficial after 88Km! The food stock was sizeable – loads of fruit and snack bars, rolls, malt loaf – loads of options.

There was also water, squash, coke and hot drinks. As well as energy gels and rehydration tablets.

Basically it felt as though you couldn’t really want for more. The team were brilliant and the feeling at each Pit Stop was just rejuvenating.

I took the time to refill water reserves, eat fruit and take 2 minutes to regain my thoughts, breath and composure before heading out.

The Weather

Well it was dry which I appreciated, but it ended up warmer than I anticipated. The first third of the race was OK, early start and woods etc on the route gave shade and protection. By the time I left Goring the route was more exposed and the heat was building. With the hard packed chalk path the sun was bouncing up off the surface making it feel like the inside of an Aga at times. It was hot, dehydration could have been a real risk, but I was actively trying to consume 500mL to 1L between pit stops and also taking on 250mL additionally at the stop itself.

The third section of the route was abetter as the sun began to set and the heat dropped it got more pleasant to run and made the finish easier (sort of!)

The Participants

Well firstly, like me, I feel I am qualified to say that many are in this for the personal challenge. I want to see what I could do, to test and find my limits. I tested them, but I didn’t’t find them. As they say, ‘You don’t know your limits until you fail!’

Everyone on the trail had their reason to be there. Some were focussed on the race, headphones in, mind on the job in hand. Some wanted, and needed to talk, share stories and experiences. I’m not a social butterfly, I would choose running quietly in my own space than being the one that starts conversations with everyone, but this was different. This really did feel like a big team, in it together, starting together and beating it together. I spoke to a lot of people. Mostly making utterly incoherent conversation I’m sure!

Some people recognised me from my Social Media postings – which was great, but I apologise for not being very chatty – the scale of the task in hand made my ability to converse somewhat poor. So to those of you that said Hi! I hope you had great journeys across the weekend and achieved what you set out to do. You were all amazing !

The Achievement

Right, I’m back at 95Km, I realise the downhill is here and the brakes are off, I hit 5 min/km pace for most of the final 5Km to the end – no idea how after 95Km but the adrenaline at the end of the race is almost forming a taste in my mouth.

I know my wife is on her way to meet me at the end. I texted here at Pit Stop 8 and 9. She responded saying eta 8:54 PM. I’ve no idea of the time now but im going to get to the end as quickly as I can to share this moment. Emotions are high, I’m not a big cryer in daily life but running brings the emotions out in me.

I visit the stones, turn for home and can now hear the announcements as people are finishing, 1.5Km to go, I can see the lights, I can hear the cheers.

Final stretch it’s straight to the finish. I can see the arch, there are supporters dotted along the side. A couple of children join their mum only meters ahead of me to finish hand in hand – an amazing site – so heart warming. Then I hear the announcer call my name, announce my time and then I’m there, under the arch. I see my wife and I’m not sure which of us is closer to tears.

I’ve done it. I have the medal. I have the feeling in my mind and heart that I’ve just achieved something many can only dream (or fear) of. Many won’t even try to do what we all did. Many rule it out as something that is just for the elite athletes. But many of us are not in that category. Many of us are normal every day people, with kids, families, jobs and lives to juggle. But we all share this achievement in common. We decided to show ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and each other what we can do if we just try.

Some of us made the start line, but couldn’t complete the journey and many of us crossed under that Finish arch whether it was 100Km or 50Km and took our medals around our necks. No matter where the journey ended we all won in one way or another over the weekend. We are all legends, heroes and role models for so many.

We conquered our challenges, we made our memories and no matter how or where we finished we all can stand tall, slap ourselves on our backs and say ‘I did that’.

Stand proud.

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