This was truly the hardest feat of endurance I have put my mind and body through. 100 km should never be under-estimated. But it was fun!
Preparations for this race began about a year ago. Having applied and failed to get into the UTMB CCC race I was on the look out for something of similar distance to have a go at (my longest run previous to this was 54 miles) and came across Race to the Stones (RTTS). Training begun almost immediately (in fact I’m completely addicted to trail running so I am in training all year round) and went really well. I raced the Endurance Life Exmoor ultra (34 miles of incredible coastal trails and brutal hills) in March of this year and followed that up with the Stroud trail marathon shortly after. I was racking the mileage up and managed to get a couple of 30 milers in as long training runs whilst also running a few 10km and half marathon trail races (speed work!).
I’d chosen my gear and nutrition…
- The North Face Long Haul shorts.
- The North Face Better than naked t-shirt.
- The North Face sun visor.
- Inijini Trail 2.0 socks.
- OMM waterproof racing jacket.
- Ultimate Direction SJ racing vest (with UD soft flask).
- Saloman S-Lab trail shoes.
- Chia Charge flapjacks.
- Clif shot gels (Chocolate).
- Clif shot blocks.
- S-Cap electrolyte tablets.
I was all set. I thought I was all set. How could I have made such a school boy error!?!?! My shoes were worn! Yes my Salomon S-Lab shoes that I adored for the last 8 months and logged 100s of miles in were starting to give my feet aches and pains on longer runs but I didn’t think to get a new pair! Got to a few days before the race and had no time to change them now so I was going to have to soldier on.
RTTS is a 100km race and it would be my first at this distance. I wasn’t nervous about the distance because I had put the miles in during my training, but I was hesitant (to say the least!) about my shoes, but as soon as I set off I just tried to forget about it and enjoy the trails. And enjoy the trails I did! The course was relatively flat with no major climbs, just a few short hills. The scenery was truly breath taking. One of the reasons I love trail running so much is that you get to see places from points of view that you’d never otherwise experience them from.
I started off at an easy pace. I had planned to run at least the first 10-20 miles with my friend Stevan and aim for a slightly faster second half of the race but that went out the window after the first mile when I got a bit excited and ran with the crowds and hence didn’t see Stevan again until the following morning! The first half of the race went by fairly quickly. I had a slight wobble and the third aid station just after running along the Thames where I sat down and stretched for a few minutes before continuing on. I hit the half way point in just over 6 hours and sat down for some real food – a strange concoction of vegetables and pasta – didn’t look the most appetising but certainly hit the spot. The volunteers at manning the aid stations were superb all day – attending to the runners needs in a very friendly fashion!
Leaving the half way point feeling energised I felt good and it occurred to me that I could break 14 hours (which was beyond my original expectations of just finishing) if I carried on at a steady pace. The weather however, had other ideas. I could see a storm coming in from the west. A big, towering inferno of black clouds. 10 minutes later I was huddled underneath a small collection of tree trying not to be hit by marbled size hail stones. The day up until now had been baking hot – in and around 30 degrees! After about 20 minutes the hail passed and the sun came out, so I plodded on only to be hit 5 minutes later by torrential rain. No where to shelter this time so just had to run through it. It was actually quite refreshing after being cooked for most of the day.
All was going well up until mile 52 when my right foot started to ache. For the last 10 miles I had employed a strategy of running a mile and then power-walking half a mile. As the miles rolled on I found myself having to walk more than I was running. I got to the last aid station with about 6 miles to go and I was now in full on hobble mode. Every step on my right foot was painful and a struggle. Unfortunately there was absolutely no way I was pulling out with 6 miles to go having already spent 14 hours trying to get to the finish. The last few miles were brutal. It was dark. The path was incredible uneven and would have been challenging in daylight with two working feet! It took me over 2 hours to hobble the last 6 miles in pitch black darkness with just the spotlight of my head torch to keep me company.
Arriving at the finish was a strange sensation. Despite not being able to run for the last 10 miles or so I didn’t really want the experience to end. The feeling of complete freedom. The mental challenge of fighting the internal dialogue of stopping because of injury. The physical challenge of not stopping because of injury! I crossed the line and was quite relieved to see people again having spent the last two hours by myself in darkness hobbling along woodland trails. First stop after finishing was the medical tent where a doctor had a look at my foot. Despite my right foot looking like it had swallowed a cricket ball the doctor said it would be fine and it just needed resting. Quite a relief as I was fearing some long term damage. I pulled up a sun lounger and feel asleep in the medical tent amongst cheers of other brave souls crossing the finish line. It was one o’clock in the morning. Sixteen and half hours after starting the race I was finally able to sleep.
I woke several hours later to find Stevan wrapped in silver foil lying on a camp bed next to mine. I think it was fair to say he had earned his rest!
Apart from the amazing trails and beautiful views the one thing I’ll take away from RTTS is the people. I met and spoke with lots of different people from all different backgrounds during the race who all shared one thing in common – a stubbornness to never give up! Having ‘hung in there’ when the going got tough I feel physically and mentally stronger.
What’s next? A 100 miles – it’s not that far.