It’s taken me a few days to recover and reflect on the Race to the Stones and my perspective has evolved over the last 5 days with it. My first reaction on finishing was pure relief, relief to have finished and be able to stop and sit down. But this then changed to disappointment at not being anywhere my time goals and not performing as I’d expected. Now however I am happy and I’m proud, the time might not have been what I hoped but I finished. I ran 100km which is quite honestly a bloody long way and it’s easy to forget that achievement and get caught up in time comparisons.
A year ago I hadn’t run more than a half marathon, now I’ve finished 2 marathons and 2 ultra marathons not to mention crossing Scotland in a day on bike and foot. I think these moments of reflection are important to our development as runners, the chance to enjoy the achievement and also think about what could be improved before you start focusing on the next goal.
The race itself was great, a truly stunning route and perfect organisation. There is such variety on the route; the early part winds through forests on dirt tracks interspersed with some amazing single track descents with fallen trees to jump over. Then you drop down to the river just before Goring where you pass right through the town itself on paths that wind behind people’s houses and down alleyways. The route then climbs for a few miles up onto the Ridgeway as I’ve always known it, a wide dirt track with views for miles and miles. It stays like this for most of the rest of the route interspersed with patches of rutted track and chalky descent thrown in for fun including the final downhill to Avebury itself.
Throw in crossing a golf course, a church yard, a poppy field and a few farms and you’ll get an idea of experience. It never gets very high with the highest point being Liddington hill at 276m but it’s also never flat. Undulating probably doesn’t do it justice but there really isn’t more than a few 50m sections that you would call flat running.
I breezed along the first 20 miles or so feeling great, trying to keep my pace conservative but enjoying the scenery and having some company to run with. But approaching half way I started to struggle, I think I got behind on my nutrition and definitely didn’t drink enough electrolytes. The heat was also building and I sat in the halfway checkpoint really struggling, the enormity of the distance still to go got to me and combined with the nutrition issues took me to a really bad place.
I slowly pushed on to the next checkpoint where I met my brother, I was seriously considering bailing at this point but sat with him for 20 mins or so with a cold towel on my head and drinking electrolytes which seemed to help turn the corner. I left checkpoint 6 slowly but moving and just focused on running anything flat or downhill and walking the up hills while drinking electrolytes.
The crew in each check point were superb though, as soon as you arrived they were offering to fill your water bottles and getting you to eat and drink. I’m sure they all worked long hours that day so a big thank you to them. Seeing that positive smiling face when you reached a check point makes a big difference in a race like this.
From then on it’s a bit of a blur, there was a huge thunderstorm with massive raindrops which was very welcome to help cool down, then just mile upon mile of trail that was now covered in big puddles. It definitely helped at this point that I was getting onto my home trails, knowing every step ahead of you means no surprises and you are mentally ready for the hills.
Finally after 13 hours of running the stones were in sight, thankfully I knew about the little detour at the end where you run past the finish before coming back again. Not sure everyone did though judging by some of the reactions! My little brother had run the final 15 miles with me and he challenged me to have a sprint finish, didn’t think I’d manage it but my last mile might actually have been my fastest. Amazing what a bit of adrenaline can do for you.
The finish was in a farm yard which was actually quite fun as the barns were being used for food, rest and treatment. Although I think the nice long finishing straight would have been better in the daylight there was still a great cheer from all the people as each runner finished. My only complaint here is that there was no goody bag, it’s not a cheap race and while the check points were well stocked it would have been nice to get more than just a medal at the end.
That aside this is a great race, it’s well organised and accessible for most people. The timing does mean there is a very good chance of hot weather though so you do need to take that into account. Not sure right now if I can be tempted back or not but I was a little disappointed in my time so would like another crack at some point to see if that can be improved.