10 questions about Race To The Stones:
1 - What made you sign up to run Race To The Stones?
Having done a few long distance races I like to keep pushing myself, and keeping myself both physically and mentally in shape is important to me. This was the main driver for tackling the gruelling 100km distance. You never really know what you are capable of unless you set yourself a very difficult challenge which really tests your will to succeed. It's the fear of the unknown, and the buzz when you succeed, that really drives me on.
RTTS had a great reputation for well organised and large trail race across beautiful countryside and the ridgeway. I enjoy sharing the experience with others so it seemed a great fit to run alongside like minded people.
2 - How did you prepare for the run?
Preparation is always something that I struggle with. Work & life always seems to get in the way of consistent training plans and building up mileage. However, I have a good base of overall fitness and know mentally I can endure the tough times and with ultra running and long distances I do believe a lot of it is the mental side and your will to succeed.
In terms of mileage, I'd done two marathons and a 50km ultra marathon in March. I had also done my last long run, Kent Roadrunner marathon, at very end of May. For the 6 weeks after the most I managed was a few 10 milers. It's fair to say the 100km was as daunting a prospect as I'd ever had to deal with.
3 - How did you feel on the morning of the race?
Nervous. Very nervous. It was only the night before I had found all my kit and only had one bottle for my race vest at one point! I had packed it all neat and ready the night before so I didn't have to do much at 5am in the morning.
I always struggle eating at that time so ate as much porridge as I could get down and took a trusty banana and pack of Jaffa cakes for the hour and half drive to start.
I always think about it like this; what do you want to achieve today? Some will say paint the living room, some will say sort the garden & garage out, others will say go to a shopping centre and spend their well earned pennies. Today, for me, I wanted to achieve running a 100km and that's the only thing I would focus on achieving.
4 - What was the atmosphere like at the race village?
Brilliant. It was a busy race village for an ultra-marathon but a very manageable amount. They're generally a lot more low key than say a big city marathon or the Great South Run! Check in process didn't take long and then just mixing with others trying to mentally prepare for the day ahead. It looked pretty overcast and potential for a lot of rain first thing... that proved to be a very wrong assumption to make as it was so hot! More on that later..!
5 - What was the race plan for speed and tactics to cover the 100km?
Race plan for such a distance is really simple. Start slow, progressively get slower! Run, walk, crawl as the great man Dean Karnazes once said. I knew it'd be a long day. Without any real goals I knew 13-14 hours was about where I thought I'd land. Sub 14 I had in my head as the upper limit to aim for.
The race had refuelling stops every 10km so I just break it down to getting myself to the next aid station and then to halfway hot food stop, and then counting down the aid stations to the end.
6 - During the race, how much extra food and drink did you take on board?
Nutrition and hydration are vitally important for these distances. They always say you shouldn't try anything new on race day... To understand the struggles and improvements for next time it's important to highlight the weather conditions. It was a hot and humid 23/24 degrees I would think.
For refuelling I tried to keep eating as much banana bites, and other bars I could get hands on but in the heat my appetite went. The half time hot food stop was pasta or soup. I went for tried and tested pasta option but I had heard that the soup option was nice by some other runners too!
Hydration was the really struggle for me on such a hot day. I started with my two race vest bottles filled with Lucozade and they got me to second aid station. On topping up I knew they only supplied Isotonic powder which you add to water. Referring to my earlier comment... don't try anything new on race day, as I had no choice, I gave them a try. Its fair to say I wasn't a big fan of the powder. I couldn't really take it down in my bottle. So much of my second half of race was fuelled on just water. I knew that if I couldn't take in any Isotonic powder then it is still vitally important to take in water. Please refer to my Edinburgh marathon blog about what can happen when you don't.
So hydration & nutrition (in the hot weather) was a big factor as to why I found it such a struggle out there. Something I need to work on for next time for sure. And these ultra distances are always a learning curve.
9 - Looking back, how would you sum up the event?
7 - What emotions did you go through during the 13h + you spent running?
Many. I was so nervous beforehand but in the same way as excited as a child. Running races like this is my happy place. Great camaraderie with like minded souls, beautiful countryside and a load of fresh air and exercise.
As the day went on, as the heat ramped up, I was really struggling. I dragged myself to halfway and I was really low. I wondered how on earth I was going to do that all again. The thought of quitting hadn't crossed my mind but I knew I was in for a really tough second half of race.
But the thing about running I love so much is you're not alone. It might seem like a solitary sport but the support and camaraderie is like nothing else. One guy in particular, Peter, was running similar pace as me. We spent the second half of race running together for large parts. He would stomp up hills quicker and then I'd catch him on the flats and down hills. From 50km to 80km it was the banter with him that kept me going. We drifted from 80km to the finish and I finished about 30 mins in front of him. I had a resurgence of energy from 80-100km miraculously once the temperature had dropped and fueled on a packet of Fruit Pastels!
To demonstrate how great running community is, Peter, who'd I'd never met before and just happened to be from Portsmouth too ended up giving me a lift home and we stopped at MacDonalds on the way home. Drive-thru of course!
8 - What was the feeling as you crossed the finish line, 13h 55m after you started?
Relief, shattered, but an overwhelming sense of achievement. Proud I'd not given in and proud to have completed the distance with so many other inspiring people. The funny thing is it's called race to the stones... and you actually get to the stones and have your picture taken at 98km... and then you have another 2km to run!
Be proud of your achievements. Be proud to be a runr.
It's a cracking event and I'd highly recommend it. To be able to share the experience, before, during and after, with so many like minded inspiring individuals makes it even more special. I’d recommend finding some friends, talking them into doing it and train together and enjoy the experience. You won’t regret it!
10 - For anyone thinking of running an ultra, what advice do you have for them?
Ultramarathons sound like its just for a small few, hardened running souls. But that really couldn’t be further from the truth. You can forget what your half / full marathon PB and pace is, throw it in the bin. Ultramarathons are a day out in the countryside plodding, chatting and eating lots of food! Its such a relaxed, friendly and supportive atmosphere. All you have to do is slow down, get your head up and enjoy the views, and eat lots of food and then before you know it (or 13 hours later!) you’ll be an ultramarathon runner.
“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” ― Dean Karnazes.