The Race to The Stones

By Tompky - 5:59 AM

July and Challenge Number 7 was Race to the Stones, a 100km race across Britain’s Oldest Path, and describing itself as a premium ultramarathon, it was an event I was really looking forward to.  Approximately 2,000 runners take part in the Race to the Stones, set off in 4 waves, and given most of my recent training had been aimed towards longer distance events, I was hoping to give a good account of myself.

Although I had run ultramarathon distances for my other challenges, this was my first race, and I expected to turn up alongside super-fit half man/half machine type men who would demolish the course without breaking sweat.  As regular attendees at these events probably know, this couldn’t be further from the truth, with people of all ages, backgrounds and sizes queued up at the start line with me.

The course itself was a really enjoyable one, reasonably flat, with food and drinks stops provided approximately every 10km.  This works well, and I broke the race up into short, 10km bursts.  Everything I had read and trained for up to this point had advised walking uphill, and running the downhills and flats which I did throughout, and kept me reasonably fresh throughout.  I was surprised, given the amount of advice that indicates that should be the preferred tactic, how many people took off from the start, and were breathing hard by the time we were 15-20kms in to a 100km race.

From experience, I know that my body finds it harder to take on whole foods as the distance goes on, so my plan was to eat as much whole food as possible early on whilst still in reasonably good shape, and then move to soft mushy fruit in the latter stages.  The food tables had everything you could imagine/want in these types of races, from sandwiches, energy bars, fruit, sweets, chocolate, energy drinks, water, squash.

I came into the half way point in 5 hours 59 minutes, and still felt pretty strong.  I had not really set a target for the race, it was more getting through it and see how I fared, but obviously at this stage I was aiming for 12 hours.  I was in 195th position at this point, but felt that people around me had set off too quick and I was still confident of a decent finish if I maintained my own pace.
The second half of the race followed a similar pattern as the first, running and moving through English countryside, wheat fields, along canals and through forested areas.  I would definitely recommend this for any trail runner, and believe it to be an ideal race for any novice ultra-marathoner.
It was noticeable in the second half of the race that people were starting to tire, with a lot of people dropping their pace down to a slow run/walk.  My legs were still steady, apart from a slight pain that had started through my hamstring, which is a recurring problem over the longer distances due to an Anterior Pelvic Tilt.

I felt I covered the next 22 miles fairly comfortably, but coming into the last aid station my groin and calf started to cramp badly.  I hadn’t taken on board any electrolyte drink through the race which was a massive error, and my salt levels were running low.  Fortunately I was coming into the final aid station just as cramp really set in, and I was able to swallow down a handful of table salt.  This was risky as it could have caused me to sick it all back up, but I managed to keep it down and carry on.  I left the final aid station with 12km left, and had been on the course for 10 hours 50 minutes.  I knew I needed to get a move on, and took off over the last 12km still aiming to achieve 12 hours. 

I settled in to a decent marathon pace, at 5.15-5.30kms, and started to cover the ground quickly.  All of a sudden it felt like I was really in a race, albeit with myself, and as other people struggled I told myself I had to power on to get through in under 12 hours.  The last 10km seemed to fly by, as I constantly battled with the time.  I moved into the last 2km at 11.49.30, needing two quick km’s.  It was at this point with the stone circle that just about signals the end of the race in sight, disaster struck.  Whether it was fatigue or a lack of concentration, I took a right turn where there wasn’t one, and soon ended a further km from the trail.  Wanting to do the whole route and not cut any corners, I was left with no choice other than to turn back and go back the way I cam from.  I knew at this point I would miss the 12 hour goal, but still wanted to finish as strong as I could, ending up crossing the line in 12.09.21 and 86th place.  A little disappointing but I was still pleased I completed it.  I would 100% recommend the race especially to first time ultramarathoners and people looking to make their first steps up from the marathon distance!

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