Saturday, 23 July 2016

Race to the Stones - More is in you.

Race to the Stones Day 1
Lewknor, Oxfordshire.
16th July 2016
#More is in you.

It was finally here! The BIG DAY! No I wasn't getting married, but it was something I had been dreaming about for months. I was standing at the starting line for Race to the Stones, nervous and excited, I started to shuffle forward, 2 seconds later I was grinning from ear to ear and running the first 1km of the 100km challenge.
I had signed up in March after debating about it for a few months, but after several marathons I realised if I wasn’t ready now, I never would be. Somehow I managed to get my girlfriend Caz signed up for day 2, so as she waved me off on my 50km adventure she drove up to the midway base camp to get everything set up, eat breakfast and have a sleep in the car.
I, on the other hand would be following the iconic Ridgeway along the Chilterns, I was hoping to run and walk the 62 glorious miles all the way to The Avebury stone circle in 2 days. It promised to be a once in a lifetime experience.
The chilled out start line.

100km of beautiful countryside laid out in front of me and all I could think about was “I need a wee” I kept running trying to forget, ignoring the urge, but eventually just a mere 2km in I had to stop and climb through some bushes to find a spot to pee!
I had the forethought of bringing a Shewee with me, however I had not practised in the shower ( brand instructions not mine!) I figured how hard could it be? Well it started out ok, but soon a warm, wet feeling started to occur! Great! I had now got pissy pants and at least another 48km to cover, smelling less than fragrant! I waddled back to the trail and rejoined my fellow runners, hoping no one could tell I had had a Shewee incident! I carried on running and stopped for a while at a long queue to get through a kissing gate, the run felt like an big adventure.  An adventure I was sharing with over a thousand or so runners.

Following Shewee gate, the 1st pit stop came up after a long slog uphill, it was more than welcomed. I refuelled on Chia snack bars, filled up my hydration pack, went to the loo (threw Shewee in bin) and within 10 minutes was back on the trail. I had spent many months practising what fuel and hydration worked or didn’t work, so confident with my choices I ran on, only stopping to walk the inclines or take photo’s of the beautiful scenery.
There was no doubt about it, it was getting hotter and by pit stop 2, everyone was melting! I stopped for a bit longer, remembering to drink extra water and add the Skratch Labs electrolyte mix to my hydration pack. I ate a sandwich (honey and cashew butter works for me) and a few energy balls and some honey stingers. After 30 mins I headed back out into the scorching hot conditions, I had placed my buff in cold water and put this on my head to help with the heat, but the route took you along the river and it was extremely exposed. I wanted to jump into the river and I nearly did, as further along there was regatta being held,near Goring. It had an ice cream van and myself and another runner joked about turning this stage into a triathlon, although I'm not sure about where the bike part would fit in.
My favourite photo from @pic2go

The temperature still rose, but I just shuffled along, never once wanting to give up, feeling strong and determined I made it to pit stop 3. Thankfully this break was in the shade, I gathered up some more food, a cup of sweet tea and did a quick blister check. The medical team at each pit stop were invaluable, taping legs and feet up, supplying Vaseline, Rocktape and sun tan lotion. I’m sure many runners would agree that they wouldn’t of made it without their help. I had 1 more pit stop before base camp and walking was now the new running!
The hills seems bigger, the pathways more challenging and the sun was definitely hotter! I walked and chatted away to several runners, but every now and then I would excuse myself to see if my legs were still working and I’d run the flat and downhill sections. The panoramic views from the highest point of the Ridgeway were absolutely stunning, breathtaking in fact. I tried to absorb them and take some energy from the land and before I knew it, I was at pit stop 4, near West Ilsley. This was 44km, I had just completed a marathon over some of the toughest terrain I had ever faced!
I could barely contain my excitement, this time I only stopped for 5 mins, fuelled on by chocolate and flat coke, I marched back out onto the trail. Feeling  happy and strong, I text my girlfriend to say I was on my way to base camp.
The desire to finish outweighed the scenic views and soon I was running most of the last 6km. My body was aching and I was sun burnt, but it never felt like the mental challenge I had expected! Talking with runners and running from point to point had banished my long distance demons and I was delighted!
The last stretch to the finish was uphill and I could see Caz waiting for me.
I crossed the line, feeling ecstatic, hungry and a bit sore and then I realised I had done it! The first day of 50km had been completed in the blistering sun with the added bonus of no blisters!!!

Base Camp
So what would you expect at the midway base camp. Hot showers? Chill out zone with yoga mats and foam rollers? Massage tent? Food tent and maybe a bar?
Well the Race to the Stones team (Threshold sports) had supplied all of the above, it was like a mini festival for runners. All the tents had been set up for you, there was access to hot showers with no queue and every runner was entitled to a 10 minute massage. The medical team were kept busy dealing with blister popping, heat stroke and exhausted Ultra marathoners.
I thankfully got off lightly with a few sores on my back from my back pack and a bit of sun burn. Myself and Caz ate at 6pm, there were plenty of carbs but not much protein on offer. A big table of cakes and free tea, coffee and hot chocolate were also available. (Not many gluten free options for dinner and no gf cake was on offer either)
After I refuelling, I braved the chill out zone to foam roller and trigger ball my limbs! It was the most painful 30 mins of the day, however I felt like I had brand new legs afterwards. We retired back to the tent at about 9pm and although initially I found it hard to get off to sleep (eye mask & ear plugs deployed) when I did eventually drop off to the land of slumber I slept right through til 5am.
The tents all set up and ready to go.

Day 2
#It's’ further than you think!
More is in you was the strap line from Threshold sports and it was definitely proved correct on the second day!
We were up at 5am for breakfast and pre race prep (leg taped, Vaseline on feet, sun cream applied and hydration packs filled) We set off at 6.30am and started with a nice walk as the sun rose behind us.
Sunrise on day 2 6.30am

Caz training had been going great until and ill timed sprint after a 10km race had twanged her knee. With a only  few weeks til RTTS she had rehabbed every day with glute strengthening exercises but not been able to train properly. We tried out a little run-walk on our way to the first pit stop of the day (pit stop 6) and it seemed OK, although I was advising her that more walking and less running would mean we should get to the finish line in one piece. We stopped briefly for the loo and then we marched off again, Caz wanted to keep up with a man who was smoking a pipe, as you do, on a 50km! So with him in sight we continued forward, up and over many a hilltop and onward to the next pit stop. The second day felt easier, I had someone to talk to and share the beautiful surroundings. We smiled, took selfies and laughed with others, the time and miles seemed to fly by.
Hot on the heels of pipeman!

Caz kept up with pipeman and soon enough we had passed 70km and we're heading to the next break and pit stop 7 near Bishopstone. It was heaving with bodies, some broken and some with just great big blisters on show, shoes and socks had been discarded. We ate our sandwiches inches away from these feet, luckily neither of us suffered with blisters, but we kept checking our feet and I put my compression socks on and filled up our hydration packs. By this time I was getting tired, but Caz kept me going at a decent pace and we took it in turns to lead from the front. Some of the biggest ascents occurred on the way to 80km and whilst it was becoming difficult we plodded on and tried to keep our heads up, so not to miss the spectacular terrain.
At the top of a particularly steep hill we reached pit stop 8, the heat was soaring and we were among many of the tired out runners that needed a rest. We ate and did a blister check, I overheard one lady who had decided to finish and was calling her husband to pick her up and another conversation claiming that it would take another 4 hours to complete if walking! We looked at each other and said “Fortify” we were not quitting and with that we got up and proceeded ever nearer to 80km.
We put some music on and had a singalong, this seemed to help and I almost forgot that we had another 20km to go! I was focussing on getting to the next pit stop, but by halfway to number 9 the wheels came off. Caz stopped talking and was finding it hard to keep going. Oh no, at 85km there was no singing, no talking and no laughing! I knew that she needed to stop, but with just a few km’s to go I encouraged her to keep going. I did threaten to leave her for the weasels to eat, this at least did raise a smile, but all her energy had been drained and every step was a challenge for her. The last 1km I had my arms around her waist supporting her up an epic hill. She could barely talk and all she kept saying was “I want to sit down, on a real chair”
Thankfully as we approached pit stop 9 the medical team saw us and helped me get her into their tent and onto a chair. I did most of the speaking on behalf of Caz. She had hit the wall and her body was screaming out for electrolytes and food. She was not the only one, runners were laying on the floor crying, projectile vomiting into bins and some were actually asleep. Even though she was tired, she didn’t want to give up, so we gave her a Dioralyte, flat coke, crisps and some chocolate. With 30 mins rest a minor miracle had occurred, she had been rebooted!!

She lives…….
Even I was in awe of how she sprung back into life. One minute she was out for the count and then the next she was on her feet ready to tackle the last 12km. We left the pit stop in a better state than we entered and even more determined to make the last leg, literally on our last legs!
As we past the 90km mark, it was me that started to fade, it was mainly my feet, but also the heat had been relentless over the last 2 days. I hobbled a bit and slowed down and this time it was Caz turn to be the strong one and get me over the final hurdle. It seemed to last forever and even the sight of the last 5km sign didn’t fill me with glee.
The fake smile says it all!

We shuffled on together and at last we could see the Stones! We managed a little run towards them and had our photo taken. After that we hiked back up to the last field and walked through it, once turning left out of the field we could see the finish line. We agreed to run the last few hundred yards, staggering on with heavy legs we reached the finish line and much to my surprise the crowd cheered for us and applauded our effort! We hugged and laughed as we got our medals, it had been hard work and emotional but we had done it.
More is in you is no word of a lie, it's incredible what your mind and body can do when pushed to its limits. Taking time to rest before our shuttle bus journey back to base camp, we both sat with our feet up, eating and drinking. I was so emotional, mainly because I was so proud of Caz and that we had shared the whole experience together, as I tried to pull myself together Caz started laughing hysterically “ What is it, are you ok?” I asked slightly worried that she had slipped back into delirium.
“Yes I'm fine, but look it’s pipeman!!” She exclaimed and with that our day was complete.
The end to an epic 2 days! Raceto the Stones, the best event I have completed.

After thoughts……
One of the most well organised events I have ever attended, the race crew and medical team were amazing.
The base camp had everything you could need or want and more and I loved the fact that the tents were all set up for you as well.
The pit stops were brilliantly set up and well spaced and I loved the support from the locals along the way.
The route was well sign posted, I was never worried that I would get lost!
Although there was congestion at the beginning it didn't worry me as I'm used to taking part in trail events with stiles, kissing gates and single track.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat and I'd stick with the 2 day option.

My one negative was the lack of gluten free food at base camp, I had emailed ahead and received confirmation that there would be plenty of food, but after a hard day's run there was only one option, no gf bread, no pudding or cake either.
However the pit stops had loads of gf options which did keep me going, I've learnt from years of being a coeliac to take food wherever I go, but maybe for next year this could be looked into.

I'd rate Race to the Stones event 10 out of 10 as an event and hope to return next year.


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