I can’t actually remember why I signed up for this, it was ages ago and I think I’d seen some lovely pastoral scenes on Facebook and got carried away.
This is only the fifth Race to the Stones but in a relatively short time Threshold Events seem to have created a bit of a reputation for ultra events that attract a huge range of participants and showcase some stunning areas of the country. There are also options to suit everyone, you can run or walk 50K on either Saturday or Sunday, the full 100K non-stop or 100K with an overnight camp.
It’s been a busy six months so I can’t honestly say that I’d done much specific training for it, I just hoped that the three marathons earlier this year would carry me through!
The event starts in a huge field near Lewknor, registration was quick and easy and the over-nighters (me included) dropped off our luggage and sleeping bags to have them taken over to the half way base camp.
For the first time the runners were set off in waves and mine was 7.30am, countdown, blue smoke flares and we’re off!
Race to the Stones follows the ‘Ridgeway’ which is the oldest path in the UK and takes in some stunning scenery. We ran through ancient woodlands, the legendary ‘field of dreams’, chocolate box villages and through the gardens of some very swanky properties on the Thames.
Roughly every 10K there’s a checkpoint and they’re brilliant, masses of food, crisps, nuts, fruit, energy bars, sandwiches and gels, cheery helpful marshals, medical support and music. There’s also useful information on how far you’ve come, how long till the next checkpoint, and how bad the hills are going to be! This isn’t a flat route, there are some significant climbs (and descents!) but mostly it’s rolling hills which even in light drizzle are dazzling.
After a mile or two I caught up with Amanda Sterling, friend of Pendle parkrun (and Keighley & Craven runner), running the non-stop 100K for the third time and aiming to finish in under 12 hours this year. It was great to have company and some useful information on what was ahead.
The miles ticked on, my legs felt okay, preventative toe taping seemed to be working and although the last couple of miles dragged a little, I was very happy to arrive at base camp in just over 5 hours 23 minutes. I really didn’t envy the non-stoppers who just grabbed a plate of pasta and dashed back out again, I was looking forward to a rest.
Anyway, the base camp is brilliant. The tents are all set up and once you’ve collected your bag you’re allocated one of the hundreds of little green two-man tents that cover the hill. There’s a huge marquee with hot food, pasta dishes, soup, salads, tacos and fajjtas, and as much tea and cake as you can stuff down.
Even better, there’s a bar and lots of fabulous hot ‘posh-wash’ showers and the opportunity for a free massage. There was even a pamper tent with hairdryers and straighteners (I know, this is not normal for you hardcore ultra runners). A chill-out tent with beanbags and newspapers and places to charge your phone. There was even a yoga class to stretch out sore muscles.
Steph started in a later wave with her team from Positive Steps and she finished day one looking really strong.
After a second meal and more cake, back to my little tent and ready for another early start.
As we were eating, non-stop walkers were still arriving, 11 hours after they’d set off and with another 50K to walk. This really is an event about endurance and some of the walkers would take up to 28 hours to complete the course, a massive achievement physically and mentally.
It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, some noisy buggers going to bed late and then the first phone alarm went off at 4.45am, listening to the man in the next tent recording his blog and playing it back repeatedly(?!) and it seemed to be a case of one up, all up. Still, at least I then had the joy of watching the sunrise across the valley.
Knowing how great the checkpoint support was en route, I lightened my pack, no need to carry the picnic for eight people I’d dragged around yesterday (and hadn’t eaten!).
Breakfast in the big tent, bacon butties, porridge pots, fruit and yes more cake then off. No staggered start today but you needed to be off between 6 and 7am.
I hit the road just after 6.30am, very stiff to start but the painkillers helped and I soon loosened up. Because there wasn’t a wave start, there were lots of walkers ahead making it tricky to pick a passing route on the narrow rutted trail.
Day two had more open fields, wider paths on the chalky North Wessex Downs and even some short stretches of Tarmac.
We passed by the White Horse at Liddington which I somehow managed to miss, maybe it was over a wall? The signage was excellent, red arrows made the route super clear, even I couldn’t get lost. The gaps between checkpoints felt longer today and the temptation was huge to sit down and enjoy the ‘buffet’ but I knew it would be unwise as I may never get up again!
It was great to get support from Mark and Gracie at the last two checkpoints, peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches, quick refill of the water bottle and push on till the stones.
It’s not surprising that the last section felt very long, probably my own fault for not changing my Garmin from miles to kilometres, but when I thought we were nearly there I saw a 5K marker – I know it’s just a parkrun but after 95K that feels like such a long way. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” as Dory would say.
A long final decent into Avebury and ‘the Stones’ was made disconcerting by runners coming back up the hill towards me. I hadn’t got lost, we just had to run through the National Trust site, get our photos snapped with the Stones (being us), then climb back up the hill, turn left into a field and eventually arrive at the farm where the finish was located.
Finally! It felt so good to finish and there was more food (burgers, hot dogs, pasta jacket potatoes and more cake) showers, medals and plenty of mats and foam rollers for a quick stretch (as if!) before heading home.
My split times were almost identical and I finished in 10 hours 46, more than happy with that as I’d estimated about 12 hours. It was only on the way home when I checked the results that it became apparent that I’d finished 1st female and 9th overall in the two-day event, nothing compared to how quick the non-stop guys were but I’m still chuffed to bits.
This isn’t an event for everyone, if you’re a hard core runner who would prefer to navigate by the stars, chew thistles and drink from streams, this is probably not for you, but if you want more of a ‘glamping’ event with lots of atmosphere and hot showers, where you can’t possibly get lost and you’re fed regularly, I would definitely recommend Race to the Stones.
P.S. Amanda smashed her non-stop target and finished in 11.25